Cheering From the Fify Yard Line
A series of moments in the lives of one family
|Date||Event||Story||Written on||Story Arc|
Jim joins Major Crimes.
Jim begins a stakeout outside an old lumber mill near Auburn, following a lead on the Switchman.
Blair drowns in the fountain at Rainier
Blair disowns his own dissertation on Sentinels.
Blair turns down the badge but accepts a position as a consultant after the newspapers retract the fraud story (on page 20), explaining that Blair had been overly 'dramatic' with the claim of fraud in order to distract the press. The press was not amused, but the brass thought it showed Blair was a true 'team player.'
Lawyers hired by Jim settle a lawsuit against Rainier and Sid Graham for a tidy sum that pays off Blair's student loans and leaves him some in the bank, but Rainier refuses to reinstate him saying that he had disgraced the university and missed too many deadlines. Blair's response: screw you.
Blair has a little talk with Jim about how he'd like to start a family, but he can't do anything conventionally. Blair buys the apartment next door.
Jim is finding the impending pregnancy harder to deal with than he thought.
Blair and Jim show off the new and improved loft at a Christmas party featuring the baby-momma, but their bad luck follows them back to the apartment.
2001 April 17
Twin girls, Abigail and Elizabeth, arrive and Jim turns into a giant marshmallow that's immediately wrapped around their tiny fingers.
Naomi moves in
2002 April 17
The girls' first birthday. William Ellison begins to get suspicious, and Jim comes clean about the girls. William is even more wrapped around their fingers than Jim is. They tell Stephen shortly after.
A family vacation to the Grand Canyon proves that the Sandburg zone has just tripled in size.
The kids join a soccer league, but Jim has even more fun as the coach.
2006 April 17
The girls' fifth birthday.
Abigail starts kindergarten, but Elizabeth, the shy one, stays home with grandmother.
Abigail is kidnapped and Jim almost gets kicked off the force for beating her two kidnappers nearly to death. Jim and Blair confess to Simon that the girls are Jim's biological children.
2007 April 17
The girls' sixth birthday.
Worried about Elizabeth's continued shyness, Blair and Jim sign both girls up for softball, and Jim does the "little league dad" thing with them while Blair cheers from the sidelines.
Grandmother Naomi moves out.
|Blair is hurt on the job and Jim ends up moving into Blair's room to help take care of his injured guide and the two children. Things start to go a little UST.|
2011 April 17
The girls' tenth birthday. There's an ugly scene with a homophobe who insists that he never would have let his daughter come if he'd known that two "fags" were the girls' fathers. Ironically, Jim and Blair aren't together.
The girls move "Dad" upstairs with "Uncle Jim" when the guys are at work, and the sleeping arrangement sticks.
2012 April 17
The girls' eleventh birthday. Jim and Blair take them to visit their surrogate mother in Africa.
Abigail shows definite signs of being a Sentinel while in Africa.
Naomi dies of a stroke at 62.
2014 April 17
The girls' thirteenth birthday. They invite boys to the party (although Elizabeth is still more into soccer than boys). Jim is in hell; Blair laughs his ass off.
Elizabeth is suspended from school for punching a boy who was dating Abigail and hit her. Blair is upset; Jim high-fives his daughter (after speaking to them both sternly). Abigail gets her own form of revenge on the boy.
William Ellison dies of a heart attack at age 84. When he leaves his estate split equally between Jim, Stephen, Elizabeth, and Abigail, Jim and Blair come clean to the girls about their parentage.
2017 April 17
The girls' sixteenth birthday
Elizabeth (who started school late) enrolls at Rainier University as pre-med, but she might want to go into psychology or anthropology or genetics or maybe law instead.
Abigail has a scare, thinking she's pregnant, and then they all have a scare when Jim is ready to kill the boy.
Abigail enrolls at Rainier wanting to go into law enforcement or criminal investigations.
With twenty years in Blair is eligible for retirement. He's 50 and Jim is 62; they both retire and get private investigator licenses so they can take whatever cases they want.
For their 19 th birthday, Jim and Blair take the girls back to the Grand Canyon and of course more mystical weirdness ensues.
Elizabeth brings home a boy. Jim hates him. Jim thinks he's a nice guy, but he just hates him anyway. Blair laughs his ass off.
Elizabeth graduates with a double major in psychology and criminology after three years in college.
Abigail is involved in a robbery at a bank. Her senses click into place and she meets a young man who is working as a teller who she immediately knows is her guide. She just slightly terrifies him with both her Sandburg zone luck and her enthusiasm.
With an X and a Y and an X, X, X
"Hmmmm." Jim reached for a wrench, groping with fingers on the concrete before a sneaker shoved the tool close enough for him to reach.
"Have you ever thought of having kids?" Jim looked suspiciously toward Blair's sneakers, and suddenly the man crouched down so Jim could see faded jeans and the bottom of that multicolored vest Blair loved.
"Chief, there something you want to tell me?" Jim asked as he started mentally reviewing the list of his partner's recent dates. Despite Blair's reputation, Jim knew that the man didn't actually get around as much as the station gossip would have it. Oh, he had dates plenty, but the number of times he came home smelling of sex and satisfaction... okay, the number was a little higher than Jim's own stats. Still, Jim had assumed Blair had been more careful than to get some girl pregnant. He flinched away from thinking about how this would change their relationship.
"Oh yeah, totally," Blair said with so much significance that Jim immediately ignored his worn brake pads and slid out from under the truck. Blair was squatting there, fingers nervously working the edge of his vest.
"Who is she?" Jim asked.
Blair looked up in confusion. "Who?"
"What are you talking about?" Jim demanded in frustration as he sat up.
"I'm talking about parenting. What are you talking about?" Blair asked as he continued to stare at Jim as though Jim were the one out in left field. All Jim could do was sigh and brace himself for the Sandburg zone he could almost feel approaching like a storm front across his skin.
"Okay, parenting," Jim said slowly. "We thought Caro was pregnant once, and then it turned out to be a false reading. I can't say I ever thought of it after that."
"Well, no joke considering the kind of women you date. Oh man, you'd be taking the kid to visit mom in prison," Blair said with a wry smile, and Jim glared. Blair just smiled wider. "But seriously, I mean, don't you ever think about having a kid running around, some little girl climbing on your knee or a little boy hanging onto your leg?"
Jim had thought about that quite a lot when he'd thought Caro was pregnant. "Not recently," he shrugged.
"Why not? Are you afraid the sentinel genes might make life difficult, you know, like your senses made your father call you a liar?" Blair shifted and settled on his butt, and Jim guessed they were having this conversation right here in the parking lot, sitting on the concrete in the shade of his truck. Yep, this would be the Sandburg zone.
"I'm afraid I don't know how to raise a child alone," Jim growled. He really did hate it when Sandburg assumed everything came back to the sentinel genes. But rather than take Jim's aggravated tone personally, Blair was just nodding.
"Cool. So, if you had someone?"
"Chief, did you get some girl pregnant?" Jim came right out and asked. Blair started laughing, which was not the reaction Jim expected.
"No way. No fucking way would that happen," he said cheerfully. "I'm just thinking about parenthood."
"But no buns in the oven?" Jim asked. This was worse than he thought.
"Nope. But it'd be cool. And now that I have the consulting job and a nice little settlement from Rainier and Sid, it seems like the right time."
"What about your PhD?"
"Oh please. I hate university politics. Worse, I suck at it. I wanted to find a sentinel, and then after I found you, I wanted to keep being your partner. The PhD was like a total excuse man... total. And now with the consulting job, I'd price myself right out of work with a PhD. The commissioner is totally too cheap to hire a full doctor just to run around and play with the cops."
"Play with..." Jim just stopped and shook his head. The man obviously didn't understand how the rest of the department saw him. "Blair, you're incredibly good at your job. Simon has to beat off other captains and their requests for your help."
Blair gave a huge smile, one that made his whole face look impish and young. "I know. Oh man, it's a trip. I never thought I'd find a place where I really fit, and now I'm inside one of the tightest closed cultures on record. It doesn't get any better."
"So, what does this have to do with parenting?"
"I'm settled. I mean, I never thought that would happen, but I have a home and a job and I think I'd make a great dad."
Jim frowned. Okay, this wasn't sounding like a confession. This was sounding more like Blair was planning on moving out and starting some 2.4 kids, white picket fence life, and that just wasn't the Blair he knew.
"Jim?" Blair asked slowly. "Don't you think I'd be a good dad?"
"Are you moving out?" Jim asked.
"What?! Oh man, you are not tracking this conversation well. I never said I wanted to move out."
"There isn't exactly room for a baby crib in the loft," Jim pointed out. He was starting to feel more than a little cranky. In fact, he was feeling cranky enough that he really didn't want to be having this conversation here. Grabbing up his tools, he started slinging them into his toolbox.
"The apartment next door is coming open. I thought I might buy it."
"That place is half the size of mine. You won't have room for a cat over there, much less a kid," Jim pointed out. The day had started out so nice. He got up and grabbed his toolbox, and headed for the loft.
"Well, yeah, if I moved over there, totally," Blair agreed as he chased after, apparently still in a cheerful mood. "I was planning to knock down the wall at the end of the hall so that we had another bedroom behind the bathroom. We could keep the second bathroom, but the kitchen would have to go. No way do I want to destroy the environment with disposable diapers, and those chemicals right up against skin are so totally not healthy, so I thought we might put in a washer and dryer so I could do cloth diapers."
That brought Jim up short. His finger was only halfway to the elevator button when he turned to study Blair. "You want to stay home but bring a baby in?"
"Well, yeah. But this is not something I can decide for us. It's your home I'm talking about invading with baby food and diapers and baby smell, and despite how grandmothers like to coo about the smell of a fresh-washed baby, I've smelled some of them, and that is not a good smell, not even on your own baby."
Okay, Jim definitely needed some thinking time. He reached out and punched the button as he thought this through. He'd always expected that Blair would eventually move on and start a life... that they'd go from roommates to friends who saw each other at the office and spent Friday nights drinking beer and watching a game or playing poker. But this... Blair was changing the rules.
"Oh man, message sent and received. That's totally cool because I understand that having someone else in your space is hard. I still might get the apartment next door though. Real estate is a good investment and Rainier's settlement money is not exactly pulling down big interest dividends in a savings account." The elevator doors opened, and Blair darted in, his head ducked so that hair hid his features.
"I didn't say no," Jim said with a frown as he followed.
"You didn't say yes."
"You're thinking with that wrinkle between your eyes, the one that makes it look like you just stepped in something disgusting and smelly. Really smelly."
"Chief," Jim sighed. Shit, bluffing was easier before Blair knew him so well. "Okay, I'm a little bothered by the idea but it's not the baby. You do realize that a baby comes with a mother, and that comes with potential for custody battles and general ugliness."
"I was thinking about a surrogate mother."
"Which is one area where the law is fuzzy at best. The baby is going to be half hers, and any woman who can just walk away from her child..." Jim stopped. That was coming a little too close to his own wounds. Blair was silent, but his hand reached out and rested against Jim's arm, an island of warmth in the suddenly chilly air.
"Okay, that brings us to the next part of this conversation," Blair said as the elevator doors slid open.
"Next part? You mean this gets weirder?" Jim hesitated so long that the elevator doors started closing and he had to reach out and hit the side of the door to keep from being cut off from following. Blair was at the loft door, bouncing and fidgeting.
"Maybe we should get some beers."
Fuck. Blair only suggested beers when the Sandburg zone crossed into the Twilight zone. "Blair?" Jim asked, a warning in his voice. Sandburg finally got the key to work and he darted into the loft, beelining for the refrigerator where he pulled out three beers.
"Are you expecting company?" Jim asked. If he was about to meet Blair's child's potential mother, he didn't want to do it in a greasy wife-beater.
"No... no, two of these are for you," Blair said as he shoved a cold bottle into Jim's hand and headed for the couch with the other two. He set one on the table and took a deep drink of the other. "Okay, I can do this."
"Blair?" Jim asked as he came and sat close. The desperate beating of Blair's heart was starting to seriously worry him.
"Okay, just... just don't freak."
"I'm not going to freak."
"Seriously. Do. Not. Freak," Blair said, articulating each word in a way that made Jim start worrying even more.
"Sandburg, I'm a Ranger. We don't freak."
Blair just snorted. "Fine, but when you freak, I'm reminding you of that. Anyway, have you ever heard of congenital adrenal hyperplasia?"
Oh god, Blair wanted a kid because he was dying. Jim clamped down on that thought and forced himself to take this calmly and rationally. "Are you sick?" There, that came out sounding almost normal.
Blair twitched an eyebrow at him. "No. For me, it's like totally normal. I was born with it."
"Okay, and what does that have to do with all this?" Jim asked, struggling with a sudden urge to grab Blair and hug him the way he had when Blair had been drugged and scared in the basement of the precinct. Shit. Some weird disease was the one thing Jim couldn't protect Blair from.
"Okay, no freaking." Blair took a deep drink from the beer bottle. "Okay, I was born with CAH, and god bless Naomi for not believing some of the bullshit they tried shoveling at her. And god bless her for not knowing how far along she was in the pregnancy because she thought she was at eight months when she was at nine, so I was born out in the middle of nowhere in Montana with no doctor around."
Jim wasn't ready to bless Naomi for that considering the dangers of childbirth, but he kept his mouth shut as Blair drank more beer and Blair's heart pounded painfully fast.
"Okay, man, I have no idea how to say this. Okay, you know how I am so not an exhibitionist? I mean, you've dropped trousers so often the girls at the prison probably compare notes on your anatomy."
Jim glared, and was ready to point out Blair's many romantic failings, but Blair held up a hand. "Yeah, yeah, I'm so trying to get us off track. This is not easy. Okay, if I were to flash you the way you flash me about every other day when you go traipsing from shower to loft--"
"If it bothers you, just say it," Jim growled.
"It doesn't. Man, naked is natural. I have no problem--"
"Yes, Sandburg, you obviously do because as you just pointed out, I have never seen you naked. And that didn't seem strange up until this point. Right now, I'm starting to get suspicious." Jim had no idea what he was suspicious about, but he was suspicious.
"Okay, geez. That's what I get for rooming with a cop. Okay, so if I were to flash you, you might notice that I'm a little on the... underachieving side."
"To say the least. Okay, so the doctor says I'm in the range of normal development, but I'm like at the 2nd percentile."
Jim shook his head. "Please, connect some of these dots because I don't see what any of this has to do with parenting."
"Karen Jameson offered to surrogate, but it wouldn't be her eggs I used, it would be mine."
Jim didn't even answer. Blair tipped back the beer and drank the rest in heavy gulps that made his Adam's apple bob.
"Okay, this is how it goes. CAH sometimes affects a person's gender and messes up hormones leaving them bits and pieces that don't exactly fit into male or female."
"You're a woman?"
"NO!" Blair snapped. "I'm intersex. Focus, Jim. I have a penis, and something that might pass as balls if you don't look too close, but I have ovaries."
"Ovaries? Without being a woman?" Jim blinked, downed his own beer, and then started looking around for Henri's hidden camera. He'd kill the man... right after he killed Blair for starting this little practical joke.
"You are so totally freaking," Blair said sadly. "Did you know that out of a thousand births, one or two need to have surgery to 'normalize' their genitals? And lots of parents aren't even told. They're just told their kid needs some extra skin removed, and snip, snip, there goes a big chunk of sex organ. One in a hundred isn't totally male or female. This is like natural. Man, I bless Naomi for not letting the doctors do that to me."
"Natural?" Jim didn't even have words to describe that illogical bit of logic.
Blair narrowed his eyes and gave Jim a look that made it very clear he was on thin ice. "Yes, natural. My body is exactly the way it's supposed to be."
"So, could you have sex as a woman?" Jim cringed even asking the question, but he just couldn't not ask.
"I am a man. Repeat after me, Ellison, Blair is a man. Even you couldn't find my girl parts without a doctor and some seriously specialized equipment. If I'm going to have sex with a man, I'll have to do it the old-fashioned way up the out-chute."
"But you want to be a child's..." Jim caught himself when Blair gave him a look that would take the paint off the side of a house, "father. Father who donates the egg. Father who donates the egg and then has another woman carry the baby to term." Jim was fairly sure his brain was broken.
"A woman, not another woman, a woman, and if I have to tell you one more time that I'm a man, you're going to wake up with permanently green hair... at least what little hair you have left," Blair threatened, but he also took Jim's empty beer bottle and shoved a full one into his hand. Jim took a deep drink.
"Okay. You're a man, and you want to... artificially inseminate an egg and you just happen to be the one planning on donating the egg," Jim checked. Blair nodded.
"And a woman will carry it."
"No vagina here, no vagina and no way my body would carry a baby. Besides, as a man, I am completely freaked at the idea of even trying to carry a baby. It's no different from me asking you to carry a baby to term. Wrong parts there."
"But if we did a genetic test?" Jim asked, suddenly confused about what parts Blair just might have.
"XX," Blair shrugged.
XX. Female. Woman. Blair was a girl. Okay, Blair wasn't a girl, but Blair's DNA was a girl, but he was a man... with eggs. Jim didn't even feel himself lifting the beer bottle, he just tasted the beer going down and wished it was something a whole lot stronger. Jim was man enough to admit that he was freaking.
"The doctors wanted to cut off my penis and try to give me female hormones. Naomi actually had to grab me and run at this one hospital when I was about three. Neanderthals. They really thought that anything different was by definition wrong, but Naomi was great. When she went to file my birth certificate about a month after I was born, this doctor explained that my parts were outside the range of normal, and she just changed my name from Jacob to the more gender neutral Blair Jacob, and said that if I wanted to be a girl later, she'd pay for the operation, but that no butcher was cutting up her little baby."
Jim didn't even have an answer for that, so he just sat on the couch, staring at his now-empty second bottle of beer wishing he had more. This was beyond even the Sandburg zone.
"I would have to take hormones to increase the estrogen and force the eggs in my ovaries to develop, but that shouldn't take more than a couple of months. The therapy would make seven or eight eggs form all at once, and I shouldn't have more than a few side effects: a little lessening of body hair, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The doctor says that I'll go back to normal the minute I stop taking estrogen."
Jim nodded absently.
"I know Karen Jameson from years back. She was one of the few sexual partners who ever commented about my genitals. I mean, I leave most women so sated and happy they aren't really measuring the equipment, but Karen had done work in Africa on ritual circumcision, so I guess for her it was occupational habit to check out the parts."
"Right." Jim just blinked.
"Anyway, we talked, and she told me that if I ever wanted someone to carry a child, she would love to do it. Said she could never see herself as a mother, but it'd be a shame to not pass on my genes." Blair's voice got soft and sentimental, and Jim could tell that Blair had fallen for her hard sometime in the distant past.
"I called her a couple of weeks ago, and she's still totally on board with the plan." Blair stopped and looked at him. "Jim? Come on, man. You're freaking me out."
"Freaking you out?" Jim demanded incredulously. His brain couldn't quite fit around all this. It really couldn't.
"Man, Karen wants to know whether to go on a health food diet in preparation for the baby, but this isn't just my life. This is our life. I'm not going to bring home a stinky baby unless you're on board with it," Blair said softly, and Jim could hear the need, the desperate and hard need in his voice. He chuckled at the thought of telling Blair that his biological clock was ticking, but he could do without green hair.
"A little boy or girl with those curls of yours running around... especially if I got to teach them to pick their shit up... I could live with that," Jim said with a slow smile. He could more than live with that. He remembered the bright and shiny hope he'd felt when they thought Caro was pregnant, and he remembered the bitter disappointment when she put down her foot down and said she wasn't going to intentionally try to get pregnant, that her job was too important to sacrifice. It'd been the end of their marriage. "I think I like that idea," he admitted.
Blair gave him a bright smile... one of his impish smiles that rearranged all his features. "Man, I didn't know I was so scared, but if you're sure?"
"I'm sure, Sandburg. God, you can't do anything the conventional way, can you?"
"Nope." Blair played with his empty bottle. "Um, I actually have one more question."
Jim nodded, not really listening.
"Will you be the sperm father?" Yep. That was it. Blair had broken his brain. Blair obviously knew Jim's answer before he did because while Jim's brain was still in overheating mode, Blair gave a shout worthy of a cheerleader and threw his arms around Jim for a manly second before darting off the couch and toward the phone.
"I'll call the doctor, you don't have to do anything, well, other than get your sperm into a cup, but that's it, man. I am so going to take care of everything else."
Blair's words sounded so much like Jim the time he had brought home a puppy, that for a second, Jim thought he had misheard the entire conversation... that he had imagined it or hallucinated it or something. Only, there was Blair, bubbling over the phone to some doctor's office as he made an appointment. Oh yeah, welcome to the Sandburg zone.
Off the Sidelines
"Ellison, I'm going to have to kill you, aren't I?" Blair snapped as he aimed a punch at Jim's stomach.
"What?" Jim demanded as he caught Blair's wrist and tried to defend himself. Blair gave him one last dirty look before he stomped off to the truck. Jim gave his partner a confused look and then glanced over at Fergus and Peters, both of whom had carefully neutral expressions.
"I swear you're developing PMS," Jim whispered so softly that not even another Sentinel would have heard, as he headed around to the driver's side. When he got in, Blair just glared harder and gestured out the front window.
"Let's go. I mean, you're the one who insisted on driving, so drive."
"Shit, Sandburg, what is your problem?" Jim asked as he slammed the truck into drive.
"Oh, I don't know, my asshole partner maybe."
Jim gritted his teeth and tried really hard to not just snap back with all the things he was thinking. But the fact was that this hormone treatment was not improving Blair's mood. He moved carefully into traffic while thinking about how this new, hormonal Blair was like living with Caro all over again.
"And there you fucking go again," Blair sighed, sounding more defeated than angry.
"What? Go where? Dammit, Sandburg, just say what you're thinking instead of playing these games."
"Me?" Blair just about screeched, and Jim took a corner so fast that Blair had to grab for the dash. Jim immediately felt guilt wash through him and he slowed down. When he glanced over to see if Blair was okay, the man was glaring at him through narrowed eyes. "Ellison, you are on the verge of getting seriously hurt here," Blair warned darkly. While Jim wasn't physically afraid of his partner, that tone cut straight through to every buried fear he carried.
"Look, Chief..." he started, not even sure what to say, but he was pretty sure that he needed to apologize for something. Now he just needed to figure out what he needed to apologize for.
"Fuck, you really are absolutely clueless here, aren't you?" Blair sighed.
Jim was caught between wanting to admit that he had no idea what he'd done to set Blair off and wanting to claim that he knew full well what was going on. He considered bluffing for a second, but another glance over at Blair changed his mind.
"Sandburg, I have no clue at all. My best suggestion about why you're acting so..." Jim caught himself a half second before calling Blair bitchy, "so cranky has everything to do with the hormone treatments, and I assume that's something you don't want to talk about, so I don't know why we're talking about it."
Jim stopped at a red light and studiously kept his eyes forward. He hated fighting with Blair. Every time he did he could feel a tightness in his chest like he was doing something wrong.
"Oh, I definitely think this has something to do with the hormone treatments, but I'm not the one being bitchy," Blair said as if he'd read Jim's mind. When Jim glanced over, Blair had his arms crossed and that killer glare of his turned fully on. Shit, and people accused him of having a shit look. They'd never caught Blair's.
"What?" Jim shot Blair a confused look before he had to focus on his driving again. He'd made a promise to himself to slow down, and he had to concentrate on not flooring the accelerator; it was harder than he thought.
"Ellison, you are either one seriously repressed son of a bitch or a real pain in the ass... possibly both."
"Either tell me what bug has crawled up your ass or just knock it off, Chief," Jim warned.
"What bug? What Bug!? Look at how you're driving, Ellison!"
"I'm going the speed limit," Jim defended himself.
"Exactly! Since when do you drive the speed limit? And since when do you insist on driving me to a simple scene."
"I always drive, Sandburg!"
"To a murder scene, yes. And if someone in Major Crimes ever tried taking me out without you, I think the universe might come unraveled. But Special Victims? You never come with me to Special Victims' cases. Let me get a call from Fergus, and you're all 'give me a call when you're done, Sandburg.' Only now—now you have to drive me. And you're driving like an old woman!"
"I'm driving safely," Jim defended himself.
"Two words, Ellison: over and protective. Actually," Blair said without even taking a breath, "four words: over, protective, over, bearing." Blair ticked each word off on his fingers.
Narrowing his eyes, Jim opened his mouth to deny all of it. But then he fell silent. Okay, so he was man enough to admit that he might have gone a little overboard lately. He was just starting to feel a little guilty, but Blair just kept right on going.
"And then on scene, you kept getting between me and anyone else. Man, I thought you were going to snap that woman's neck when she broke down and grabbed me, crying."
"I was not anywhere close, Sandburg."
"Uh-huh, but you were uncomfortable, weren't you?"
"It's not unreasonable to be wary around domestic abuse victims, Sandburg. You know full well how many of them turn violent against their rescuers."
"She was begging for help," Blair said in that tight voice that portended a coming explosion.
Jim decided it might be time for a tactical retreat. "I might have hovered a little, but domestic abuse victims can pose a danger to any officer," he compromised.
"And yet, you never minded when I did post-abuse counseling before. But now... now you're acting like I'm breakable. The other cops were about ready to start laughing at the way you were hovering over me like a mother hen whose eggs were about to get stolen by the farmer." Jim flinched at the thought that other people were judging his behavior.
"Man, talk to me."
"Blair," Jim sighed. Spotting a sign for a Chinese place, he headed for their parking lot. If he had to have this discussion, he didn't want to be driving at the same time. Blair promptly rolled his eyes. "I'm not going to try and have this conversation with you and navigate rush-hour traffic at the same time," Jim growled.
"Suddenly I'm partners with the safety police." Blair rolled his eyes again as Jim pulled into a parking place at the far end from the restaurant. "Jim, talk to me here, and if this is some chauvinistic shit where you think of me as a woman now, you are seriously going to be limping home on your own after I kick your ass and take the truck," he warned.
"Sandburg, I don't think of you as a woman." Jim glanced over, and even though the hormone treatments were making Blair's body hair thin a little, there was nothing womanly about Blair except for that hair of his. His square jaw, his brow ridges, his prominent Adam's apple and his whole body all signaled male. But somewhere down inside his body tiny eggs were slowly developing. "And even if I did think of you as a woman, I'm not a chauvinist. I'm just as happy to let Megan stick her neck out if she wants."
"Then why this hyper vigilance with me, man? Is it something to do with the senses?"
"It's something to do with those eggs," Jim snapped as he gestured toward Blair's stomach.
"The eggs?" Blair had a confused look on his face, and Jim clenched his teeth as he tried not to snap in frustration. This couldn't be that hard to figure out, and Blair was a bright boy. Either he was not firing on all mental cylinders or he was just enjoying torturing Jim.
"Chief, you have eggs in your body that, if everything goes according to plan, are going to be my future children. Yeah, I'm feeling a little protective."
"Jim, I hate to say it, but you're carrying around little swimmers that are going to be my children too, so I'm still not getting it," Blair said as he crossed his arms over his chest and just dared Jim to argue with that logic.
"I always have little swimmers. You do not always have eggs... you know, ripening."
"Well, yeah, but I always have had and always will have eggs, unless I get something like ovarian cancer. And may I say that after a lifetime of living as a man, that would both suck and seem incredibly ironic."
"Don't even joke like that," Jim said, his guts tightening at the thought.
"Geez, man, what is your problem? I mean, yeah, we have the eggs developing in here, but if this round of hormones doesn't work, we just develop more eggs. I don't get this, Jim. Explain why this is making you into such a fucking mother hen."
"I'm not the mother," Jim said nastily, and the second the words were out of his mouth, he just wanted to suck them right back in. Instead he turned to stare out the front window, ignoring the shocked silence next to him. An old couple was walking slowly to their car, the man shuffling his feet and staring intently at the ground as he held an elderly woman's arm.
"Okay," Blair finally said in the awkward silence, "I assume something's really bugging you or you wouldn't be acting like such a dick. So, you can either tell me what the hell is the matter with you, or I can get out here and take the bus back to the station." Blair used a frighteningly quiet voice. Jim clenched his jaw tighter. "Fine," Blair huffed as the door clicked open.
"Blair," Jim said, nearly sick to his stomach at the idea of Blair getting out and walking in this neighborhood. He looked over expecting to find Blair glaring at him with fury. Instead, his friend just looked confused and maybe a little hurt.
"This is hard for me," Jim said tightly. Blair leaned back against the seat and just waited. "I don't like being this out of control."
"Oh man, tell me something I don't know."
"You don't know, Chief," Jim said, cutting Blair off. "When Caro was pregnant..." Jim closed his eyes and struggled with the pain that memory brought him. Sometimes Blair's mouth went a mile a minute, but now, when Jim desperately needed Blair to just start talking about something... anything... Blair stayed silent. Jim struggled to find the words. "I was stuck on the sidelines while she walked around the loft talking about abortions and whether she could run the department and be a mother and whether it was fair to bring a child into the world and whether we had room in the loft. Chief, I even offered to quit work, to get my PI license so I could stay home more—" Jim stopped.
"Oh, Jim. Oh man, I had no idea. So did she have the abortion? Is that what happened?"
Jim gave a half-laugh. "The universe saved her from making the choice. It turns out it was a false alarm or she lost the baby or something."
"Are you sure? I mean, could she have had the abortion and just told you that she lost the baby?" Blair asked. Jim's guts twisted painfully as he looked over with horror. Would she have... No, no she couldn't have done that to him.
"Whoa, hey, don't zone on me here. You know me, I just say whatever random shit crosses my mind. Hey, just feel free to ignore me," Blair hurried to say as he slammed the truck door closed again. And then Blair's hand was resting on Jim's arm. "I didn't know, Jim. Hey, you know you're not on the sidelines here, right? I mean, you're just as involved in this as I am. We make decisions together. Totally together."
"I know that, Chief," Jim agreed wearily. "But right now, it's all yours. If you wanted to cut this whole experiment off right now, you could."
"I know. But, Chief, I never thought Caro would shut me out, either." Blair sighed and pushed his hair back as he turned to stare out the front of the truck. Blair didn't have an answer for that and for long minutes they both sat in the truck and struggled with their own thoughts. Finally, Jim chuckled. "Wait until your friend is carrying our kid and see how overprotective and overbearing you get," he warned.
Blair's smile started slow, but he ended up with a huge smile. "You think I'm going to turn into an overbearing jackass, too?" he asked mischievously.
Jim scowled at Blair for a second before he started the truck again.
"You're still going to drive like an old woman, aren't you?" Blair asked, but this time his voice had humor in it.
"For the next nineteen years," Jim said as he nodded.
"God help me," Blair said with a dramatic sigh. "Simon should be relieved, though."
"If we told Simon exactly how we're doing this pregnancy, relieved would not be first word out of his mouth." Jim headed for home and waited for a big enough gap in traffic to swing out into the flow safely. He firmly ignored the snort from Blair's side of the truck.
"Yeah, well Simon is not part of the family. He doesn't get a vote on this," Blair said as he patted his stomach. "I wonder if that feels less weird for women because, man, I am having trouble thinking of my parts as potential baby material."
"I'm thinking about my dick differently lately myself," Jim admitted as he finally pulled into traffic.
"Yeah, well we're in this together, and no one's on the sideline. Deal?" Blair asked.
"Deal." Jim checked his mirror twice before merging into the next lane.
"Oh, and next time Fergus calls, I am so going without you."
That made Jim clench the wheel a little tighter as he tried to fight against a dark urge to just take Blair back to the loft and lock him up and keep him safe. Jim knew he wasn't being reasonable, but it was how he felt.
"We'll get there, big guy," Blair said as he patted Jim's arm. For some reason, Jim had the feeling that Blair knew just what he was thinking.
Home Team Advantage
"Simon!" Blair said happily as he opened the door.
"Sandburg. So, this is the new and improved loft?" Simon walked in, and Jim leaned against the expanded kitchen island, watching as his captain's eyes looked around at the half-finished space. Luckily most of Jim's original loft was intact, so they hadn't had to move out during renovations.
"We still have to drywall and paint," Jim said. Of course, that part was obvious, but the three beers he'd already had might be impairing his judgment a bit.
"No way, mate," Megan objected. "Sandy and I can paint."
"Yeah, Superman, I'm taking your ass fishing or something while the fumes air out." Henri slapped Jim on the shoulder, and Jim scowled. He still hated being called Superman, but then Henri had drunk a few beers, too. Joel was playing designated driver today so most of Major Crimes could get good and drunk at the party.
Simon shook his head. "As long as no one thinks I'm going to paint," he warned.
"No way, Simon. I have you pegged for helping with the drywall," Blair said with a smile, and he was off and bouncing between the studs into his new room. The second bathroom was the only room that had the exterior drywalled, and even then, the interior was still bare studs. However, considering that Karen Jameson had spent most of the party in that second bathroom with morning sickness that had decided to hit her between six and nine every night, Jim was glad that the second bathroom had gotten priority. They'd be borrowing the neighbor's bathroom to piss in if they hadn't finished it.
"So, this is going to be my room," Blair said as he turned in a slow circle. "Double doors there, and that," Blair said as he pointed both fingers dramatically at the wall on the far side of a short hall, "man, that is going to be a laundry. A real, no more going to the basement laundry."
Jim wondered how many beers Blair had drunk. Considering today was the day they had scheduled coming out to the gang about the pregnancy, probably plenty, but Jim hadn't been paying enough attention to know. "Yeah, and if you leave your wet clothes in the washer for a week, I'll be shoving you in there with them," Jim warned.
"Damn, Sandburg, you're actually going to have a grown up room instead of a closet under the stairs," Simon said admiringly as he looked around at the bare studs and wires and pipes running along the ceiling to the laundry area. "But you could have made it a lot bigger if you'd used more of the space at the end." Simon walked down what would be the hall and looked at the long room at the very end with windows on three sides and an exposed brick wall.
"I don't need a whole lot of space unlike some square foot hogs," Blair said as he walked over to Jim and poked him in the stomach.
Jim definitely still had the largest room in the house, and he was not apologizing for it. He'd actually argued for giving Blair a larger room, but Blair wanted the nursery to be large and airy since it would, one day, also be a playroom. Since they'd discovered Karen was currently carrying triplets, Jim was glad. He'd always wanted a family, but the idea of three little ones was slightly scary. The doctors still said that Karen might naturally abort one or more fetuses, but the longer she carried, the less likely that was to happen. Jim was finally starting to really believe that he was going to be a father... or an uncle at least. At least he and Blair knew the truth. And Karen... and Naomi... and one day they'd tell the children. Jim frowned as he tried to imagine that conversation.
"Earth to Ellison," Megan said, and Jim jerked as a hand was waved in front of his face.
"Knock it off, Connor," Jim growled as he pushed her hand away. Megan rolled her eyes at him.
"It's a beaut," she said to Blair. "And your room's going to be great as soon as it's finished."
"Thanks," Blair said with a big smile, and Jim frowned as he listened to Karen dry heave a little more. He felt more than a little guilty that his children were making her so very sick. And she was just such a good sport about it. Caro would have verbally ripped him to shreds as if he had intentionally impregnated her with difficult children. Blair looked at him questioningly, and Jim made an effort to clear his expression.
"Hey, man, that was a nice room," Blair said as he gestured toward his old room under the stairs, but Jim could see he was glancing over toward the bathroom now, too. Damn, Jim hadn't meant to worry him, and it really was just one more round of the nightly sickness—nothing new. "I just wanted something close to this end of the house," Blair finished, clearly no longer focusing on the conversation.
"Hairboy, do you have any idea how much it costs to have a loft that has a 'far' end?" Henri asked while Simon walked around the end room and looked out the windows. He might be looking at the child-locks on the windows, though. Jim figured they didn't have that much more time to come clean.
"More than you make," Megan teased.
"Hell yes, more than I make."
Joel shook his head at their teasing. "It's a good investment, Blair. I'm glad to see that you and Jim are feeling secure enough to own property together. You two had some hard times there for a while." Jim wasn't sure if it was Joel's serious tone or the beers, but he could feel himself sliding into a bit of a maudlin state. They had some hard times because of him. He'd fucked up over and over, and yet here was Blair joining their lives together. Here was Blair joining them together with children. Jim flung his arm over Blair's shoulders and pulled him close.
No matter how he was feeling, he was definitely not going to act maudlin around the guys. "Yeah, well once I taught him to clean his own hair out of the drain, it got a lot better," he teased.
"Hey, at least I have hair," Blair countered, "and you're no prince to live with. I mean, when you get overly tired, you snore like a chainsaw, man. I'm telling you, Joel, there were nights when I thought I was going to murder Jim in his sleep."
"Dream on, short stuff. Even in your sleep, you couldn't take me."
"Ha. Ha. And I know your weaknesses, Ellison. All I have to do is let you eat at Wonderburger every day, and you'll be dead in no time. The perfect crime, man, the perfect crime."
"Oh yeah?" Jim reached over and gave Blair a good noogie while Blair cursed creatively and counterattacked with weak punches to Jim's kidneys.
"Knock it off. God, are you two ever planning on growing up?" Simon asked as he came back toward the entry.
"Nope," Blair answered happily, but Jim was more concerned about the look on Simon's face.
"Simon?" The captain waved off Jim's question and headed for the living room.
"Where'd your girl go, Hairboy?" Henri asked as he followed. Joel had already claimed one end of the loveseat and Henri dropped down on the other end.
"Probably the bathroom. She's been using the bathroom like... whoa," Blair said with a shudder. Jim knew he felt guilty, too.
"TMI, Sandburg," Simon said, but now the concerned look had morphed into confusion. He had landed on one of the island stools, and Jim wandered into the kitchen. "You picked up a little extra storage in the kitchen," Simon commented.
"Kitchens and bathrooms are great investments," Rafe offered, slurring his words but still looking model sharp even when clearly plastered and drooping over the end of the couch. The alcohol was definitely going faster than the food laid out all over the dining room table.
"We need a little extra storage," Jim said, exchanging a look with Blair. "For the baby."
Joel and Simon reacted fastest, but then they hadn't been drinking. Sharp eyes stared at Jim, and he really wished he could just tell them that yes, he was the father. And he was. But this was a family issue, and a complicated legal issue, and Jim did not need for anyone to act strangely around his family because they didn't know how to handle something this weird. More importantly, he didn't need anyone acting strangely with Blair. Right now, his first priority had to be protecting Blair's privacy because as much as Blair pretended to be in-touch with himself, he clearly wasn't comfortable with the fact that he had female genes. So, Jim was going with the lie they'd all agreed to.
"Blair's friend is in the bathroom with an evening version of morning sickness," Jim said as he tilted his beer in Blair's direction. Jim watched as his friends' faces went through some variations on shock, amusement, disbelief, and then slow awareness.
"Sandy?" Megan asked, and then her face slowly brightened into a huge grin. "Mate, this is wonderful. You're going to be a great dad!"
"A dad? Sandburg, do you have any idea what you've gotten yourself into?" Simon asked.
Joel just chuckled. "I don't think any of us knew what we were doing when the first one showed up," he said. "So, are you and Karen getting married?"
Jim was just glad that Karen was still trying to throw up her intestines, because questions like that tended to send her off on long rants about patriarchy and patrilineal power and societal assumptions. Jim was just very grateful that her genes were not in those babies because if she and Sandburg had naturally conceived, he'd have little ecoterrorists or something on his hands.
"Whoa, no, and do not suggest that in front of Karen," Blair said with a half-panicked look toward the new bathroom. "Man, she is not into marriage."
"She's not? But, you are getting partial custody, right?" Henri asked. Since his divorce, Henri was more than a little sensitive when it came to father's rights.
Simon wasn't far behind him in that department. "Sandburg, you need to find a good lawyer."
"We already have the custody arranged," Blair said. "Karen has her PhD in anthropology, and she travels. A lot. She is so not in a place in her life where children really fit with her plan. So, I'm getting full custody." Blair smiled at the room, and shock was still the dominant reaction.
"But she's going to be around, right?" Megan asked with a frown.
"I doubt it," Jim interrupted. He could see Blair's frustration starting to rise. The man had infinite patience on most subjects, including asshole partners, but he was exceptionally touchy on this one. "Karen's a bit of a free spirit... think Naomi--with a PhD--on wanderlust steroids. We're just a lot more stable, and Naomi is moving in for a few months, taking Blair's old room under the stairs."
"Besides, could you really see me married?" Blair asked with a huff of laughter.
"I think you'd be a fine husband," Joel said, clearly still a little bothered by the idea that Karen wasn't planning on sticking around for the children.
"Hey, considering that Hairboy here is our last hope, I'm kinda glad to hear he's sticking with the single life," Henri argued. "With Rafe married and Jim doing his priest impersonation, I counted on you and your active dating life to keep me supplied with juicy stories. Do not go letting me down now."
"You still have me, mate," Megan pointed out.
Henri rolled his eyes. "Not the same."
"Jim," Simon said seriously, "are you okay with this? This is going to be a huge change in your life, too."
Jim smiled at his friend. Simon was the only person who knew how upset Jim had been about Caro's pregnancy... the only person other than Blair. He could practically feel Simon's concern now, and in a way, it made sense. If Blair were bringing home a child that wasn't Jim's, he wasn't sure how he'd feel. Could he be a good uncle to Blair's child, or would he be too jealous? While he liked to think that he was a big enough man to let the jealousy go, Jim had to admit he wasn't sure.
"I'm great, Simon. I'm going to be an uncle. I get to play with the kid and hand it back to Blair the minute it takes a dump."
"That's the best way to have a kid, mate," Megan said with a laugh, and if Jim had to guess, he would say that Megan was about as maternal as Karen.
"Well, I don't mind telling you that this is a big relief," Simon said as he headed for the table and grabbed the lemonade pitcher.
"A relief? Sir? Why do you say that?" Jim looked at Blair to see if he had any idea what Simon meant, but Blair looked just as confused.
"Come on, Jim, you have to know about the rumors." Simon said it, but every detective in the place suddenly found the print on the rug fascinating. Yeah, Jim knew about the rumors. Two men didn't normally live together, but as the bisexual half of this friendship, Jim certainly didn't get very upset about them. If anything, he got some satisfaction out of their assumptions because he could identify and target the worst of the homophobes for a little special attention.
"Oh man, know about them? I spend half my life ignoring them. And just so you know, an earring does not make a person gay. Having sex with men does," Blair snorted as he dropped into the chair near the balcony.
"Well, the domestic partner rule applies to everyone, and that means you two. There were a few higher-ups who were starting to think that we should break up your partnership if you were involved with each other," Simon said with a grimace. Jim suspected the unhappy expression was over the idea that Jim would lose his guide. Simon might not be comfortable with homosexuality, but he wasn't a bigot.
"Oh man, no way," Blair breathed.
"And everyone who knows Hairboy knows that he chases the skirts," Henri objected. "But the rumors were getting pretty bad. I guess now we can kill two rumors with one stone. Hairboy is doing the deed with some mighty pretty women, and he's not that smart. Aren't you a little old to be getting a girl knocked up?"
Blair was saved by the bathroom door opening and a pale-looking Karen emerging. Morning sickness was supposed to be in the morning, and during the first trimester only, but Karen seemed determined to break the rules all over the place. Jim could practically feel Simon's shock from across the room as the captain stared. Karen was beautiful, that's for sure. She was tall and muscular and looked a little like a green-eyed Amazon... and she had a tribal tattoo down one side of her face from the eye to the corner of her mouth, a tattoo of a tiger crawling down her arm, black lipstick, thick eyeliner, and artificially black hair. Combined with her even paler than usual complexion, she definitely stood out in a crowd.
"Oh man, you look like shit," Blair offered sympathetically.
"Good, because I feel like shit. If I'm going to feel this bad, the least I can do is look bad enough to get a little sympathy," she answered as she headed for the living room. Joel was in the nearest seat, and he got up from the loveseat to offer her a place to sit. "Thanks," she said as she slowly sank into the cushions. She didn't look pregnant, but she looked about ready to drop dead. Jim pulled out a dining room chair for Joel since the other seats were taken.
"Mate, you're looking a little..."
"Completely fucking ill?" she finished for Megan. "That would be Blair's doing."
"Oh man, I am so sorry."
"Hey, it's your doing, but I don't blame you. You just did the getting pregnant, it's the act of carrying a child that's making me sick. You would think nature could find a better way of propagating the species. Personally, if I have a choice, I'm going to spend my next life as a polar bear and give birth while sleeping."
"My wife said something like that," Joel offered.
"Smart woman." Karen groaned and pressed her hands to her stomach
"Karen, this is our boss, Simon Banks. Simon, this is Karen Jameson who is currently four months pregnant with the next generation of Sandburgs," Blair introduced them.
"Nice to meet you," Simon said as he walked over and offered his hand.
"Hey, same here. Blair says you guys are going to be a great extended family for the babies... if a little overprotective."
"Babies?" Simon asked, and his glare targeted Blair.
"Hey, multiple births often lead to spontaneous abortions, so I am just hoping for healthy and not counting the embryos," Blair insisted.
"Multiple births?" Simon echoed.
"Oh ho, Blair is shooting some mighty potent stuff," Henri said as he raised his beer bottle in a toast to Blair's sperm count. Blair blushed, and Jim thought it probably had more to do with anger than embarrassment. As a man who wasn't shooting any stuff at all, Blair had reason to be a little touchy.
"It's a woman who determines the number of fetuses," Karen interrupted with a dismissive snort. "It's amazing people can breed at all considering how little they understand the issue."
Jim almost choked on his beer, and Megan started in before Jim could head her off at the pass.
"So, you're planning on going walkabout after giving birth?"
"I'm going for a grant to look at polygamy in African Muslim communities and how that contributes to marital discord among those who emigrate to the U.S.," Karen answered with a sweet smile that should have warned Megan off. But then, Megan was never easily warned off.
"Must be hard, knowing that you're going to leave your kid behind. Even harder if you have twins."
"I am not the type to raise a baby. I can observe one, record the vital statistics, trace the lineage, or explain a dozen different rituals for inviting one into a new culture, but I am not equipped for raising one. Besides, Blair and Jim are going to do a great job, so I'm not worried at all."
Jim really hoped that she was telling the truth on that front. If she gave birth to his child and then tried to cut him out of the picture Jim wasn't sure how he'd react, and since he was the only person involved who wasn't legally connected to that baby, he wasn't sure what a judge would say. As much as Jim trusted Blair, he had to admit that the fear that Karen would change her mind was still wandering around in the back of his head and his heart, giving him constant case of heartburn.
"But you'll stay in touch, yes?" Joel asked, clearly concerned.
"Blair did fine without his father," Karen pointed out as she rolled her eyes. "And while I wouldn't say that Jim did fine without a mother since he's a little on the anal retentive side—" Jim raised his eyebrow at her, and she kept right on going "—but he's a good guy. I'll be around. I'll visit. But trust me, I make a way better aunt than a mother. So as soon as I give birth, my job will be to provide birthday, Hanukkah and Christmas prezzies."
"That's a little cold, mate," Megan said.
"Megan!" Blair gasped, but really, what did Blair expect their friends to say? "Man, you guys have totally closed minds here. Totally. The point is to make a good home for the kid. Do you really think I can't do that without Karen?" he demanded as he looked from one person to another. Most of them looked away in embarrassment. Simon, however, just gazed right back.
"Sandburg, I don't think you have a clue what it takes to be a good father."
"You're so right, man, I don't. I'll figure it out, the same as you did."
"And he'll do a great job. So will Jim," Karen added fiercely.
Jim held his breath, knowing that the rest of the bullpen would pretty much follow Simon's lead. If he made a stink, they'd keep their presents and congratulations quiet, showing up at the loft individually. If he supported them, Major Crimes would be the sort of extended family Blair wanted for his baby. And as much as Jim wanted to give Blair and his family everything they wanted, he didn't know how to push Simon in the right direction. For a long time, Simon just looked from Karen to Blair. Finally, he focused on Jim.
"You know, Jim, since you have more saved sick days and vacation time than the kid, you're going to end up staying home for all the doctor's visits and getting called when they get in trouble at school," Simon said with a fond shake of his head.
"Hey, I have over a week saved up," Blair protested. Simon didn't even bother answering that, but Joel did make a little amused face.
"Yeah, I figure that out already," Jim shrugged. "And Sandburg's going to have to give up those retreats of his."
"Hey, I already cancelled the New Mexico trip. Man, it's not like I'm irresponsible," Blair complained, but he was also smiling.
"I say he makes it through one midnight feeding before he's interviewing nannies," Simon said as he shook his head as though so very, very sorry. The smirk gave away his real amusement, however.
"You have no idea how many late nights I did keeping up with school and you jokers," Blair answered, poking his finger in Simon's direction.
"And that long hair... mate, one good grab from a baby's fist, and you are losing that. Where the police academy and Rafe's fashion lectures failed, your kid is going to succeed," Megan smiled.
"Oh man, you're all set against me, aren't you?" Blair said with mock horror.
"I'll stick with you," Rafe said as he raised his glass of Scotch. "What am I sticking with you through?" he frowned as he looked around. "Hi!" he said as he spotted Karen, who he had been introduced to when he first showed up. "I'm Rafe, and who would you be?" He gave a drunken impersonation of his charming smile.
"We're so screwed. I mean, if this is the extended family, we are so totally screwed," Blair said as he walked over and laid his forehead on Jim's arm as though weeping. Jim couldn't keep the smile off his face.
"That's okay, Chief. We'll get restraining orders against the lot of them," he offered as he patted Blair on the back. Simon's eyes went wide with faked indignation, and Joel laughed.
"Too late, mate. You'll never convince a judge you aren't as troppo as the rest of us," Megan said with a snort. "Now, someone said there would be Sandburg's famous chocolate espresso cookies, so unless you all want to get seriously hurt, point out where I'd find those."
Blair shook his head and headed for the kitchen where he'd stashed the sweets hoping that the crew would at least try his healthier food first. Jim watched as everyone cheered the appearance of the sugary tray of brownies and cookies Blair brought out. Everyone except Karen descended on them like vultures, Henri play-shoving Blair out of the way to make an end run on the walnut brownies. Jim laughed and then glanced over. Karen was watching the scene with an almost envious expression as the guys all teased each other.
When she caught him watching, she whispered so soft that only Jim could hear her. "You guys are going to make great dads."
Chocolate Espresso Cookies
3 ounces unsweetened GOOD dark chocolate, chopped
1 (12 ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips, divided*
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground red chipotle or red cayenne powder if you're brave
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons finely ground dark-roast coffee beans or instant espresso powder
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Melt unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, and butter in a double boiler, stirring until smooth, and remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat.
In a bowl beat eggs, sugar, and ground coffee on high speed until very thick and pale and mixture forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 3 minutes. Then beat in chocolate mixture. In another bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, and salt. Sift this into the batter and stir until just combined. Stir in remaining chocolate chips and walnuts. Let the batter rest for about 10 to 15 minutes and allow it to thicken and cool.
Drop batter by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto baking sheets and bake in batches on the middle rack of oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until puffed and cracked on top and still slightly soft in the middle. Do not overcook them! Cool cookies in baking sheets 1 minute and transfer to racks to cool completely.
Jim laughed and held his hands out for Abigail. "Where's my girl?" he asked, holding his hands just a few inches in front of her. She screwed up her face and considered him with clear frustration.
"Uuup," she insisted without moving. Naomi laughed.
"Where's my Abby?" Jim asked again as he watched his daughter. Blocks went flying as Elizabeth crashed her fists into the blocks she had just awkwardly stacked.
"That was your favorite game, Jimmy," William Ellison said as he retrieved plastic blocks from around the living room.
"It's all babies' favorite game. Create and destroy and then create again. You're just trying to figure out how to interact with the world, aren't you?" Naomi crooned as she sat cross-legged on the floor. William returned the last red block and sat in the chair again. "Naaan," Elizabeth answered her grandmother.
"Okay, I have lunch. Sandwiches for those of us with teeth, and bananas, melon, Cheerios and mashed peas for the toothless crowd," Blair said as he put the last container in the picnic basket. "And man, I am looking forward to making the mess in the park and not in the kitchen for once," he sighed.
"I thought I was the neat freak, Chief." Jim smiled and Abigail finally pushed herself off the couch and sort of aimed her fall toward Jim.
Her legs made a partial attempt to walk and Jim scooped her up and lifted her toward the ceiling as she gave a baby scream. "UUUPPPP!"
"That's my girl. Up, up, up!" Jim agreed as he turned in a circle while she threw her hands out in glee. Jim had known he wanted children, but he never knew how much he wanted children, not until they were in his life in all their messy, stinky, expensive glory.
"Oh, Blair, it's natural for babies to make a mess when they're learning to feed themselves," Naomi pointed out as she picked up Elizabeth, leaving Jim's dad to pack up the birthday toys. Jim could almost feel his father's curious eyes on the back of his neck. "Every day after I feed them, I spend a good hour cleaning most of the house. It's amazing how far a baby can fling a piece of food," she said with a smile. Jim grimaced a little at the thought of Naomi cleaning their house, but he wasn't going to ruin the birthday by suggesting again that he pay her for playing live-in nanny to the girls. When Naomi and Blair agreed on anything, Jim pretty much gave the issue up for lost, and he'd lost on this front. Naomi stayed because she wanted to, and if she wanted to stay 50 weeks out of the year, then that was her choice. Somehow, Jim didn't think the room under the stairs was nearly as interesting as her travels, but Naomi acted like her granddaughters were the biggest adventure of all.
"I think Stephen was still getting fed at this age," William commented slowly, his own passive aggressive way of disapproving of Naomi's style, but Naomi ignored him in a swirl of tie-dyed skirts as she headed for the door.
"Babies need to learn for themselves," she said and then she was gone with Elizabeth, leaving the rest of the family to trail after her.
"I'll take the bag," Jim said as he held out an arm for the bag with the diapers and wipes and emergency supplies. Blair draped it over his shoulder for him and then stacked the blanket up on the picnic basket and picked it up.
"Between Naomi's attempts to give them freedom and Jim's hovering, we might just have a two normal children," Blair laughed as he grabbed the picnic basket.
"With your genes? No chance, Sandburg," Jim said as he made faces at his daughter. "Isn't that right Abby? Your da is anything but normal. Your da is extraordinary and so very, very annoying," Jim said, and Abby stared at his mouth with the same sort of concentration Blair used to stare at research.
"You tell your fehter that not-normal is good, and he's the annoying one," Blair countered, his tone of voice teasing as he made baby faces for Abby. She reached out for his hair, grabbing a short curl. "And that is why I can't have long hair. You know, you have curls of your own to grab, girl-child," Blair pointed out as he reached up and saved his hair from her grip. Jim laughed and headed for the door. The elevator was broken, but Jim needed the exercise anyway.
"Feh!" Abby squealed as she threw her hands around Jim's neck as they bounced down. Okay, so Jim might have exaggerated the motion a little bit to get a reaction.
"Your fehter has you," Jim promised, using the Yiddish word for 'uncle' that he and Blair had agreed on as the girls' word for their second father. They wouldn't be old enough to discuss gender with for a good long time. If Jim had his way, for several decades. So, the discussion of gender and egg fathers and sperm fathers could wait until then. Meanwhile, Blair was Da and Jim was Fehter... although right now he was Feh.
Outside, Naomi stood in the sun, Abby's blonde hair now hidden under a tiny hat. She burned so much easier than her sister. Abby reached for her sister. "Oom!" she insisted firmly, a word that meant Elizabeth even though none of the adults could quite figure out why. Jim stepped close.
"You are a pushy little one, aren't you? Pushy and spoiled." He smiled as Liz reached for her sister and pulled on Abby's shirt. He let the girls reassure each other with some mutual poking before the whole parade started off toward the park.
Jim's dad was right behind with a bucket of the girls' birthday toys. "I don't know, Jimmy, you and your brother had a lot more things when you were young. If you want, I may still have some of your toys in the attic. We could make a treasure hunt out of finding some extra things for the girls."
"Oh man, that would be so cool when they got older," Blair said enthusiastically. "I mean, crawling around in a dusty attic searching for the perfect treasure knowing you can only take one thing home.... Man, that is like a fantasy. That would be awesome if you would be willing to let them do that, but I think they need to master walking before they can start dodging spiders."
Jim glanced back and he could see his old man's eyes go wide as the he struggled to come up with any sort of response to that. Yeah, fatherhood had really not turned Blair any more conventional. Personally, Jim didn't particularly like the idea of the girls banging their knees on some old trunk, but he had to admit that his five-year-old self would have loved it. Naomi insisted that listening to your own inner child made you a much better parent, and while Jim had only partially listened to her as he still child-proofed the entire apartment, he had to admit that she'd done a good job with Blair. So when she opened the cupboard and let the girls drag all the pots out, he reminded himself that he would have loved that game and it wasn't like she was opening the cupboard to the blender. And his new willingness to listen to his own inner five-year-old meant he would probably be waiting at the bottom of the steps with a Band-Aid while the girls battled spiders and dust in the Ellison attic.
"Children shouldn't have a lot of things," Naomi said, stepping in before William could even gather his thoughts for a response. "They should have blocks for building and stuffed animals and musical instruments and lots of time outside with sand and dirt and leaves, the way nature intended. We don't want to teach our girls to be materialistic, do we?" Naomi cooed at the twins. Liz reached up and poked Grandma Naomi's cheek.
"Mom's right. Babies don't need things. They need to interact with the world and with other people. It's better to have a nursery with a wide open space for playing and a few toys," Blair said, firmly closing the discussion. When Blair looked his way, Jim didn't even bother to hide his smirk. The little shit had given Jim a hard time about being overprotective, but Blair was just as much of a papa-bear in his own way. God forbid anyone turn his girls into conventional, materialistic brats.
"I suppose," William said uncomfortably, and Jim felt a twinge of both guilt and pain—guilt because he knew that his father wanted to make up for their past by getting the girls things and pain because William Ellison had never shown so much interest in his own children.
"You should come over more," Naomi said firmly as they reached the park. "It's hard for me to keep up with two girls now that they're getting to be so fast on the crawl. Another pair of hands would make it a lot easier to bring them to the park."
"Hey, yeah, now that the girls are getting older, you should so start taking them on longer trips, over to the shore or the zoo," Blair agreed, "and another set of hands would be good." He laid the blanket out on a flat bit of ground and dropped the basket on one edge to anchor it from any stray breeze.
Jim knew exactly where the two Sandburgs were going with this. Well, he could play devious with the best of them. "If you can't make it, Dad, we could hire Traci from downstairs," he suggested. He thought he overplayed his hand when Blair's lips twitched, but his father's face was a mask of horror.
"The one with piercings in her face?!" He looked pale as he put the bucket of toys down on the blanket where Blair was spreading out food and trying not to look amused.
"She's a very nice girl," Naomi immediately jumped in as she put Liz down on the blanket. "Did you know that she just got her cosmetology license? She promised to do my hair at the loft since I don't care for salons with all those chemicals in the air."
"I'm sure she's delightful," William said, but his tone of voice wasn't complimentary. "However, it seems silly to hire someone when I'm available. I can drive the Lincoln."
"That'd be great, Dad," Jim said as he put Abby next to her sister. Liz reached over and leaned on Abby in order to push herself to her feet. She was the smaller of the two, but if Jim had to bet, he'd put his money on Liz walking first. Right now, though, her feet splayed out and her butt stuck out and she stood for just a few seconds before she sat heavily down again. Blair pushed a container of bananas and melons their way, and both girls grabbed for the food.
"Yes, well, it's not like I don't understand this," William said with a wave of a hand at the family scene. "And I want you to know that I love you, Jim, and I want to be a part of this family," he finished, and he had that firm expression, the one that Jim associated more with his father laying down rules than proclaiming his love. Jim glanced over at Blair in confusion, hoping that Blair would have some sort of explanation, but Blair looked just as confused.
William sat down on the edge of the blanket and watched the two girls who were already covered in banana mash and had managed to get fruit over the immediate area.
"If you and Blair are together, then these are my grandchildren, and I'm not so old or fossilized to not understand that," he said firmly.
Jim nearly swallowed his tongue. Okay, he hadn't expected that.
Naomi laughed and clapped her hands, and that set the girls off on their own round of clapping. "Oh, good for you, William. You are proof that a man is never too old to learn how to pull his head out of his ass," she announced with pride clear in her voice. Jim's dad just kind of choked.
"Mr. Ellison," Blair started slowly, "um, wow. Okay, first that means a whole lot to me. I mean, you willing to accept me and the girls as part of the family. I mean... wow." Blair sort of stumbled to a halt.
"Blair and I aren't having sex," Jim said simply as he sat down. As red as his father was turning, he was afraid the old man would have a heart attack if someone didn't save him.
"You aren't? But... Jimmy, you clearly see these children as yours, and if you and Blair aren't together...."
"Genetically, Jim's the father," Blair said simply. For the second time, Jim nearly swallowed his tongue. They had discussed telling his father, and they had decided not to. William Ellison did not handle anything freakish with any level of tact or diplomacy, and Jim did not want his daughters subjected to that.
"Blair," Jim warned.
"Oh please," Naomi waved a hand and completely dismissed Jim's warning. "The man is their grandfather, and he's clearly jumping to conclusions, so someone needs to give him a push toward the right one."
"Which is?" William looked from one to another in clear bewilderment, and Jim couldn't blame him. Liz could certainly pass as an Ellison, but everyone who looked at Abby knew in a second that she was Blair's daughter. She had the same eyes, the same curls... she even had the same smile. Jim wasn't sure his genes were in her at all, at least not until she pressed her lips together and looked exactly like Grandpa William.
"I was born with a birth defect," Blair shrugged, and even though he sounded casual, Jim could hear the notes of stress. This was where William Ellison either proved that he had changed or walked out on a second chance to have a family. "My hormones are male, which is why I'm a man, but the internal organs are female."
For long seconds where time dragged slowly through the air, William just stared at Blair. "You're... what?"
"I donated the eggs for Abby and Liz; Jim donated the sperm. The only thing Karen brought to the table was a womb for eight months, for which I will owe her forever, but Jim and I are genetically their parents." Blair shrugged with a practiced casualness that felt off to Jim. Naomi felt it too because she shifted closer to her son, and Jim fought an urge to do the same. But he knew how it felt when everyone ganged up against him, and he didn't want his father feeling that way now. He wanted his dad in the girls' lives, and the whole reason for not telling him this was because he just didn't think his father could overcome the knee-jerk reaction that Jim could almost feel brewing inside his father.
Naomi shattered the brittle silence. "William, you're as much their grandparent as I am. This is a chance for us both to do this a little better the second time around. You know, in most cultures aunts and uncles and grandparents are an integral part of raising children. I thought that raising Blair in communes would replicate that sense of community, but I didn't realize how important it was to have someone in the group who had raised a child once already. They're terrifying little creatures the first time you encounter them, and it's only as grandparents that you can finally pull your head out of your ass and enjoy them for the wonders they are," she said as she held out a hand. Abby fast-crawled straight to her grandmother, her face orange with melon.
"They're yours?" William asked Jim, his voice thick with some unreadable emotion.
"Half, yeah," Jim agreed. His father physically leaned back as though struck.
"They're my granddaughters."
"Oh man, don't go telling everyone that," Blair said with a frown. "I mean, other people so do not understand and we don't want them getting singled out and put on the Oprah show as the kids with a dad for a mom."
"Blair, I can understand that concern very well," William said dryly. "I certainly have come to understand that my actions toward Jimmy were..." he paused.
"It doesn't matter, Dad."
"Oh, it does. But I'm glad you're willing to forgive me. As I was saying, the way I handled things was abominable; however, my attempts to keep Jim's life private were justified, as you showed when you had that press conference," he pointed out. "I'm not about to be so harsh with these two girls, but I'm not about to make them the center of attention, either. At least, not the center of attention outside the family. Within the family, I do believe they have cemented their position as the center of our lives already," he said with a smile.
"Yeah, that they have," Blair said as he smiled at the two girls. Abby was draped over her grandmother's lap holding up the sheer fabric of Naomi's skirt and staring intently. Liz was very focused on moving all of the melon pieces to the container with the bananas.
"Well, does this mean I get to buy them more toys?" William asked as he leaned forward and rested his hand on Liz's back.
"Oh no. No, there will be no materialistic spoiling of my daughters," Jim warned as he stuck a finger in his father's direction. "If you want to spoil them, you come over and spend money taking them places."
"Totally," Blair agreed.
Jim watched as his father's face slowly lit with a smile that Jim had never before seen. It transformed William's face, and for a second, Jim could swear that he could see a thin line of moisture threaten to turn into a tear.
"Right. Well, now that the children have smeared themselves with food, how about we adults have something to eat?" Naomi suggested. "Did you bring the hummus, sweetie?"
Jim smiled as he watched his unconventional family pass plastic containers of food around. Liz grabbed a fistful of hummus. Abby knocked over Grandma Naomi's tea. And Jim couldn't help but smile at the delighted expression on his father's face.
Clowns, Games, and Yucca Blades
Blair sat at the dinette and cut the apple into slices. Elizabeth had her own little plastic knife and was already trying to hack away at her own bit of fruit, but Abby just stared out the window at the trees. Growing up in Washington state, he would have thought she had her fill of trees already.
"Hickory, dickory, dock. The mouse ran up the clock." Blair started sing-songing.
Elizabeth looked up, her face beeming with excitement. She seemed to love any game where she knew the next step. Yep, she was definitely Jim's daughter with her love of not being surprised.
"The clock struck one," she yelled. Abby pretended to ignore them, but she was lip syncing the words as she stared out the window of the rented RV.
"The mouse ran down!" Blair cut the last of Abby's apple and pushed the plate over toward her.
"Hickory, dickory, dock," Elizabeth finished.
"Dickery, dickery, dare. The pig flew up in the air." Blair started the second verse, and that seemed to catch Abby's attention.
"Pigs don't fly!" she interrupted grandly.
Up front in the driver's seat, Jim laughed. "Oh, I don't know Pumpkin Seed, I think a few pigs might fly when you're in the Sandburg zone."
"Very funny, man." Blair put the knife in the sink and moved up to the passenger seat. "So, how much longer to you think it's going to be until we reach the north rim?"
Jim looked over, his lips twitching.
"What?" Blair asked.
"You're asking me, 'Are we there yet?'"
Blair glared. "No." And he wasn't. Jim had been very clear with the girls that asking that question every five minutes had been a little annoying, and Blair would not undermine Jim by asking the question anyway. He frowned as he thought about what he'd asked. Maybe.
"Hey, I just did not expect this road to be this long and this boring."
"That's what you get for wanting to visit the non-touristy part of the Grand Canyon." Obviously, Jim wasn't feeling much sympathy.
"Do you want me to drive some?"
"Maybe when we're coming back."
"Man, I can't believe they won't even let us park the RV up there overnight." Blair rolled his eyes at the bureaucratic rules people have put around a natural wonder. Trying to control nature was just one more sign of people's arrogance, and if Naomi had come along with them, she would have agreed.
"I'm just glad they won't. Chief, you know they don’t have railings around this place, right? I plan to panic the entire time we're up there. And the girls would have preferred Disneyland."
Blair glanced back at the girls sitting in the dinette poking at each other. "Totally," he sighed. Hell, he would have preferred Disneyland when he was a kid, but he just couldn't do that to his kids. And if he did, Naomi would eviscerate him and take the girls out for a ritual aura cleansing.
Jim shook his head. "And people call me overprotective. Mickey Mouse is not going to turn the girls into raving materialists."
"Yeah, yeah. That's what you said about Clifford the Big Red Dog."
Jim had the decency to flinch. Considering the number of Clifford and T-Bone and Cleo stuffed animals around the loft, he should flinch. If the girls were going to get obsessive about something, Blair would much rather have them obsess over the Grand Canyon than a cartoon dog... or a cartoon mouse.
Elizabeth came up to the front and grabbed Blair's leg. "My foots untied." She stuck her butt back and stared down at her untied shoelaces.
"Then let's go tie your shoelaces before they fall off your feet." Blair scooped her up and carried her to the sofa where he could sit next to her.
"Pretty owl flying," Abby said, pointing out the window.
"One owl, two owl," Elizabeth said, starting one of her favorite games. Blair had never seen a child that liked to count quite as much as Elizabeth. She rarely got the numbers in order, but she did like to try.
"Three owls, four owls," he added. The remainder of the drive was fairly quiet as the girls pointed out trees and rocks and birds and a yellow car and they played their counting game. The trees thinned so there were more and more clearings, and Jim finally pulled into a parking lot surrounded by old log buildings. Blair had tried to rent them one of the small visitor's cabins, but you had to rent those as much as a year ahead of time, and if he ever planned a family vacation a year before going, he was signing himself up for evisceration and a posthumous ritual aura cleansing.
"Girls," Jim said, planting himself right in front of the door. "What are the rules?"
"Oh man," Blair whispered. Jim glared at him.
"Hold hands." Abby offered Jim her hand. "That's my girl." Instead of taking her hand, Jim reached down and picked her up. "You hold hands or you're going to give your dad and your fehter heart attacks," he told her, and Blair was just happy she didn't understand what a heart attack was. Blair held out his hand, and Elizabeth reached for him.
"Fehter is a worry wart," Blair said to Elizabeth quietly. Jim had been opening the door, but he turned around to glare. "We love him," Blair added, "but he's a worry-wart." Elizabeth didn't understand everything, but she obviously understood that her father was telling her something funny about her fehter. She giggled and leaned into him as she watched Jim.
"Your father is about to develop a wart or two of his own in about two minutes," Jim told Abby before he headed out the door to the RV.
Blair had loved the idea of renting an RV so they could travel like a turtle with their homes on their back, but he loved getting out of the RV even more. Even though it was summer, the air was crisp, and the morning sun blazed brightly without the heat they'd hit driving through Utah.
Jim was standing in the middle of the parking lot breathing deeply with an expression of near bliss on his face that startled Blair. "Jim?"
He shook his head. "Sorry. It's just..."
"Zoning?" Blair asked. If that was a zone, it was a zone he'd never seen before.
Jim shook his head. "The smells are just different out here. Come on, let's get this over with."
"Oh man, this is not something to 'get over with.' This is the Grand Canyon. This is one of the wonders of the natural world. A river cut this whole canyon," Blair turned to Elizabeth since he seemed to have lost his audience with Jim. "People could never do something as wonderful as this. A river had to do all the work of carving out this beautiful canyon. And your fehter is going to race through like he's he's getting timed," Blair sighed as he watched Jim take off in the direction of the crudely carved signs. So much for the majesty and magnificence. Blair was guessing he was going to be lucky to get a couple of pictures before Jim herded them all back onto the RV. He sighed. At least they got overprotective about different things. If they both stressed this bad at the same time, the girls would be in therapy for a decade.
"Panda!" Elizabeth cried happily, pointing.
Blair looked over. "Raccoon," he corrected her. "Pandas are big. They're related to bears. Well, raccoons probably are too somewhere on the mammal tree, but that is a raccoon. They have fur that looks like a robber's mask." At least he'd gotten one teaching moment out of the trip.
The gravel and pine needles crunched underfoot until Blair reached the official path. "It's beautiful," he whispered. Jim had that dazed look on his face again, and Blair was starting to wonder if this wasn't a bad idea. Jim hadn't randomly zoned for years. Yeah, he zoned, but only after warning Blair that he was going to push some sense out past where he could handle it. And he never did it around the girls. "Jim?"
Again, Jim shook his head like a dog coming up out of water. Abby laughed and threw her hands up at the game.
"Maybe we should go back to the RV." Blair was starting to get uncomfortable now.
"We came to see the canyon, so we're going to see it," Jim said firmly and he started walking down the path. Blair opened his mouth to argue, but really, what was the point. He did want to see the canyon, and now that they were this close, he was fascinated by the sight of birds diving down below the horizon. It looked like they were diving into the solid ground and then rising up again minutes later. He hurried after Jim, anxious to stand close enough that he could look down into the canyon proper. Once he'd done that, they could go back to the visitor center with the nice safe glass windows and read about the area on plaques, like Jim wanted. Only right now, Jim was walking the path like there was nothing he wanted more than to stand at the rim of the canyon. This was getting a little freaky.
Ahead of him, Jim had stopped, and Blair wondered if he'd had a strange zone again. "Let's go get Fehter," Blair mock whispered, urging Elizabeth to run with him so they could catch up. To his left, the rocks started to rise up... or the path started to go down into the canyon, one or the other, and the ground on his right narrowed.
"For God's sake, Sandburg, slow down."
Blair opened his mouth to say something equally sharp back, and then he saw what had caught Jim's eye. The path they were on had suddenly intersected with the canyon. Two feet away, Blair had an excellent view of nothing but air below him for hundreds of feet. No gentle slope... not even a steep slope. No bushes growing from the side that you could conveniently grab if you went over. Just air. They were standing at the top of the tallest cliff Blair had ever seen and there was nothing between them and sudden and irreversible death two steps away.
"Holy crap," Blair breathed the words reverently. Mist was still rolling in the bottom of the canyon, hiding the river far below. The south rim where most people went was a distant line on the horizon, and birds soared and twirled in the space between. Grand didn't cover it. Fucking unbelievable with a side of slightly terrifying came closer. Blair pulled Elizabeth closer.
"Cool," Abby pronounced from Jim's arms.
"Visitor's center?" Blair asked in a whisper.
"Yes." Jim sounded like his worry wart had turned into an entire skin condition, and Blair was not even going to blame him.
Just as Jim turned to head back up the path, a man came running from one of the branches that forked off and led down into the canyon. "Heads up! Coming through!" he called. Blair grabbed at Elizabeth, stumbling back away from the edge of the canyon and pressing himself up against the rock face behind him.
"You fucking—" Jim cut himself off, but Blair hissed in surprise. Jim never cursed like that in front of the girls. He saved that for suspects who were about to have a close, personal relationship with a wall. Blair stared down the path as the man continued to race along the path, inches from the cliff.
"Someone is doing way too many drugs," Blair said softly.
"Daddy, that hurts," Elizabeth complained, and only then did he realize that he was clutching her hard enough to leave bruises. Intellectually, he knew they were okay now that crazy guy was gone, but he still had to work to get himself to ease up. And when Elizabeth squirmed, preferring to walk, he totally ignored that.
"Jim, hey, are you okay?"
Jim was clutching Abby's hand, and Abby had ended up standing next to him as he stared down the path at crazy-guy. Normally, Blair tried to avoid randomly calling people crazy, but this guy had earned the adjective. Not only was he going to knock someone off the path, but he had on a strange hat with two cones on the top, each painted black and white. Blair recognized a tribal symbol when he saw one, but there was no way he would ever wear something like that in public. In a private religious ceremony, sure. But no way would he walk around, or in this guy's case, run around with that on his head.
"I'm fine," Jim eventually answered. "I just wanted to get a good look so I can describe him for the police report."
"All I saw was that crazy hat."
"And that hat seems a little too calculated to distract a witness from making a positive ID." Jim set his lips in that tight line that meant they were going to be calling the police... or the rangers or the highway patrol or whoever they could find considering they were a three hour drive from the main highway. Happy vacation.
Abby interrupted them by laughing and pointing down into the canyon. "The clouds play," she squealed. Blair looked and the mists were climbing up the sides of the canyon even with the sun beating down. He traded a concerned look with Jim, but Jim had on his 'not dealing with it' face. He held Abby's hand tightly and started back toward the visitor center. A second man appeared out of the gathering fog, that same hat on his head even though this man was shorter and his skin several shades darker. At least, Blair thought he was darker. He was a little embarrassed to realize that he'd been distracted by the hat like any untrained civilian. He was a detective and an anthropologist; he shouldn't be that gullible.
Blair's bit of self pity ended the second he got a good look at the guy's face. He had a gleeful expression that made Blair's hair stand up. He wasn't surprised when Jim pushed Abby toward him and stepped forward.
"Fehter?" Abby asked in a confused voice, but Blair just grabbed her hand and pulled her back. Getting down on one knee, he corralled the girls toward the rockface and thanked God and a paranoid Jim who he insisted they carry guns. Blair's was tucked into an ankle holster and he made sure he had a clear shot at it. Peace and love was well and good until someone threatened his family.
"Pretty girls, pretty man," the guy joked, dancing backwards so that his had tipped and bobbed before him and his hat vanished into the fog.
"Chief, move it," Jim said. Blair didn't need a second invitation. Hiking one girl up onto each hip, he started down the path after Jim. Better for him to be handicapped with the girls and let Jim handle the defense. And Blair was becoming increasingly suspicious that they were going to need to defend themselves. Next time, Blair was letting Jim pick the vacation, even if his girls ended up in silly mouse ears.
The fog swirled around them, thickening until Blair felt like he was walking through cotton. "Jim?" he called uncertainly. There wasn't any answer, and Blair hurried forward, worried that he had zoned trying to look through the fog. They had gone far enough that they should reach the parking lot any second, but the cliff face continued on his right, blocking him from doing anything other than continuing down the path.
"Owl!" Abby called out happily, pointing into the white. Wings divided the fog as some animal went diving past, and Blair gasped at how close it was. Clearly they were closer to the edge than he liked, but with the fog, he couldn't tell if they were two inches or two feet from that drop.
Kneeling down, he let the girls get their feet on the path without letting them go. "Okay, what do you do when you're lost?" he asked the girls.
"Sit and stay!" Elizabeth answered gleefully. Blair wished he felt that gleeful.
"That's right," he told her in his calmest voice. It didn't work because Elizabeth started frowning and she fisted his shirt.
"I want Fehter!" Elizabeth demanded, her eyes starting to glisten with tears. That's when Blair really started worrying because if Jim were anywhere near, that would have brought him running.
"It's okay, sweetie. We just need to wait, and Fehter will find us. Fehter always finds us," he reassured her. He just wished someone would reassure him because this was definitely not going according to plan.
"Doll!" Abby called. Blair looked up to see a black and white conical hat bobbing in the mist. Pulling Abby back until both girls were trapped between him and the rock, Blair pulled his weapon and aimed. His heart pounded so hard that it made a strange roaring in his ears.
"Cascade Police Department. I am armed. Man, I do not want to shoot, but you need to back away." Blair flinched at the idea that his daughters were seeing him do his cop thing, but he would deal with the mental scarring and Naomi's freakout later. His first goal was protecting the girls, followed by his need to protect Jim—just as soon as he could find Jim.
"Jim! Jim, follow my voice. The girls need you. Jim. Jim, come on back to us." Blair called out. The fog made the world sound hollow so the words rolled around in half-echoes.
Abby started screaming and hitting Blair's back in frustration. "Wanna go home." Her wails set off Elizabeth, and Blair could feel panic as thick as the fog that pressed in. With both girls this upset, Jim should be able to hear them from the deepest zone. While he'd once thought a guide's voice was the most powerful way to catch a Sentinel's attention, that was back before Jim had kids. Let one of the girls sniffle, and Jim would come padding down the stairs, through the living room, past Blair's room and into the nursery to check on the sniffler. No way would Jim ignore the girls' screams. No fucking way. Blair's guts knotted at the need to find Jim and the need to get the girls somewhere safe—wherever that was. With those two forces pulling at him, he couldn't do anything at all.
"Want go. Want go!" Elizabeth pulled at his shirt, and Blair kept his weapon pointed with one hand and he reached around to pat her shoulder without taking his eyes off the fog.
"I know honey. But remember, when you're lost, sit and stay. Sit and stay until Fehter finds us." Blair sent up a quick prayer for Jim to find them or for the fog to lift so they could find him—he wasn't picky.
"Doll!" Abby called out in either excitement or warning, and Blair pulled his left hand back to cup the bottom of his gun hand as he focused on the hat poking up through the fog. A smiling face appeared under it.
"Who are you?" Blair demanded.
A laugh answered him. Blair didn't realize that Abby could get clear until her warm body had left his back and she was scooting under his knees toward the stranger.
"Abby!" Blair cried out in panic. She was on his right side, so he tried to switch his gun to his left in time to grab at her, and failed.
"Abigail Elaine Sandburg!" Blair yelled. Abby froze, her curled head slowly turning back toward him. "Come here this instant." Blair's mouth was so dry that he couldn't swallow. He needed at least one hand for the gun and one for Elizabeth and at least three more for Abigail, and he was coming up a few hands short. For a brief second, Blair thought his daughter was actually going to listen to him, just to be different. However, the smiling face appeared out of the fog again, and she jumped toward him with both feet, laughing as his hat bounced.
"Freeze! You are under arrest." Blair kept his gun up with one hand and grabbed Elizabeth with the other. He had no idea what he was arresting the guy for, but he figured he could work that out later. Right now, he had to get his daughter and if he had to shoot Mr. Cheshire Cat, he was so going to do it. Elizabeth had settled into a cross between hyperventilating and sobbing, and Blair moved forward into the fog after Abby.
"Abigail, come here please," he tried calmly. He didn't think threatening to lock her in a room until she was fifty would actually make her want to come back. But he was thinking it. He was also starting to have a little more sympathy for Jim's theory of child-rearing.
Ahead, a square appeared in the rocks. "This is so bad," Blair whispered, but he didn't really think he had any other choice. "Abby!" he called again. This time, Abby's happy giggle answered him from the other side of the stone doorway.
"Daddy!" Elizabeth cried.
"I'm here, honey. Just hold on tight," Blair encouraged her as he tried to get her to hold on to his pants so he would have both hands free for whatever weirdness he was about to walk into. He could feel a cold breeze as he edged forward, his gun held up. A little part of him suspected that the gun wasn't really all that useful, but he didn't have a lot of options at this point.
Elizabeth clung to his leg and settled into a hiccupping as Blair moved into what appeared to be a stone room with windows open to the air. Abby was sitting on one of the windows, her fat fingers spread out on the rock as she tried to keep her balance. Blair's words failed him as panic slammed him like a living beast ripping at him. Darting forward, he reached for Abby only to have a man appear out of the mists, his conical hat almost falling off his head as he danced into Blair's path. With a snarl, Blair shoved at him, but Elizabeth's cry pulled him up like a dog at the end of his leash.
Blair turned, and the second man with the same hat was crouching near Elizabeth who was still laying on her stomach, her quick breaths working up to a good cry. Blair brought his gun up. "Move away from her." For the first time in his life, he had absolutely no doubt about his ability to pull the trigger.
The guy smiled and gestured toward the corner. Almost unwillingly, Blair turned to look at Jim who was standing there as the fog retreated, his head tilted to the side and his eyes gazing at nothing. "Jim? Jim! Jim, I need you," Blair screamed. He could see Jim twitch, but he didn't actually move. Blair looked back at Abby and the man dancing near her, and then he looked at the second one crouched over Elizabeth. He could shoot the one over Elizabeth, but if Abby slipped, and Abby usually did, she was going to fall to her death. Blair started edging back toward the window, his gun still trained on the stranger hovering over Elizabeth. He wouldn't sacrifice one daughter for another, so if that was the game these two were playing, Blair was going to kill both of them. He'd be in therapy, but he'd fucking do it.
The dancer moved between him and Abigail again, and Blair swung his gun hand around to hit the man, but he danced back without actually moving away from Abby.
"Abby, come to Daddy right now," Blair said firmly. Abby looked at him, and maybe she knew she was in trouble, because her face started twisting into something unhappy. "Oh no," Blair whispered. Normally, Abby was the happiest of children. She smiled and giggled and charmed Simon out of his favorite tie clip just because she loved the red stone in the silver. But when Abby cried, she threw herself back and flailed and went into full meltdown. "Honey, just come over here and we can go get some cookies," he tried hopefully. When he tried to move close enough to grab her, the clown moved to the pillar next to the window and stared at her thoughtfully. Blair froze, afraid to even breathe.
Abby's fingers curled, and she opened her mouth to really cut loose and throw herself, and Blair was caught on the edge of terror—afraid he was about to watch his daughter die, afraid the man would push her, afraid that he couldn't do anything to save her.
"Abby!" he cried out, but his words were lost in the beating sounds of wings like a hundred geese all trying to get into the air at once. A huge owl dived through the window, and instead of falling out of the window, Abby fell in, startled by the bird. The two men in clown's hats both rushed forward, and the owl flapped madly, feathers floating loose to float gently to the floor. The second the fight distracted the two attackers, Blair snatched Abigail up before running for Elizabeth. He'd covered half the distance before Jim was there, moving again. He had his weapon out as he scooped Elizabeth up with his left arm and kept the three fighters covered.
Blair blinked. There were three fighters. The owl had been replaced by a man with the head of an owl, and he was beating the other two with the long blade of some cactus with sharp edges. The two clowns howled and one after another leaped out the window. As the second one fell, the fog was pulled out with him as if he'd had a string tied around it.
They were left looking at the owl creature who blinked at them exactly like a bird.
"Um, Jim?" Blair asked.
"He's a spirit, Chief."
"Kinda figured," Blair agreed when the wolf and jaguar came padding into the stone room. Blair could see the tourist plaques on the wall, so this was clearly some part of the Grand Canyon monument they'd stumbled into. The owl-man tilted his head at the two animals and then the man was gone and there was only an owl sitting on the window sill.
"Owl!" Abby called happily for about the third time today.
"God help us, it's the Sandburg zone times three," Jim said unhappily as he put his weapon away. Abby was squirming in Blair's arms, but rather than risk letting her down, Blair handed her over to Jim so he could holster his own weapon.
Abby was still squirming and reaching out for the bird. "Fehter, owl! Owls see good."
"Oh man, I do not think my genes get the blame for this one," Blair pointed out. Elizabeth just looked confused, but Abby looked entirely too comfortable with a large predator just flying in for a visit.
"Don't say it," Jim warned. He tightened his arms around both girls as he headed for the door. "Oh crap. This path... Chief, get a good look because we are never coming back here."
Blair walked over to the doorway and looked out to see a narrow path just large enough for two people to pass and the straight drop into the canyon. Behind them, the owl hooted loudly.
"My owl!" Abigail said firmly. Blair and Jim both looked at her before looking at each other.
"We're going to Disneyland next year," Jim said, his mouth set in a tight line. He handed Elizabeth over and headed out onto the path muttering things that Blair was fairly sure Jim would never allow anyone else say around his daughters. The owl hooted again, and Jim's curses got a little louder and a little more colorful. Welcome to the Ellison zone.
It was hours before the girls had settled enough to fall asleep on the bed in back where Jim normally slept. While Blair had downloaded a shitload of files before heading for the Southwest, it took him time to find what he was looking for, and the whole time, Jim drove with a single-minded silence that made Blair hesitate to bring up the obvious. Instead he sat in the passenger seat with his feet propped up on the dash as he searched through files organized by religion, region, and researcher. Eventually, he found what he wanted thought.
"That had better be the name of a good restaurant," Jim warned without taking his eyes off the road. Blair tried to ignore the owl that was flying overhead and casting a shadow over the road just ahead of them.
"We knew they might inherit this."
"That doesn't mean I'm okay with this." For that moment, Jim looked at cold and angry as Blair imagined William must have looked based on Jim's stories.
"Jim—" Blair stopped. This was freaking him out worse than the owl... but not nearly as much as the two clowns.
"Don't give me the 'watchmen' speech, Blair. She's my little girl. I don't want her walking the borders; I want her in her room watching Clifford the Big Red Dog."
"She will be," Blair said softly. "She'll totally be your little girl. This isn't going to change that."
Jim glanced over long enough to give Blair an incredulous look. "Much," Blair amended himself. "Look, we know that your Sentinel abilities didn't come online until you needed them. Both girls test normal for eyesight and hearing, so if she is a Sentinel..."
"If?! Sandburg, we're getting stalked by an owl in the middle of the day." Jim gestured up toward the sky.
"Yeah, I think that's Mongwa."
Blair turned the laptop to face Jim. "He's a Hopi spirit. During religious dances, the clowns come in and interrupt the ceremony. They exaggerate the bad behavior of tribe members or just act out behavior that isn't acceptable. They're the symbols for our Id, for the part of us that doesn't care about rules. Mongwa appears and hoots at them in warning. But part of the ceremony is having the clowns get way out of control. Eventually, they go too far, and Mongwa drives them off with sticks or the blades of yucca plants. He's a spirit that reminds us that sometimes fun can go too far."
"Chief, if you're trying to say that Abby's spirit animal likes rules, you are so far off base I'm going to confiscate your college degrees."
Blair frowned. He had to admit that Abby was not exactly the epitome of following rules, and Mongwa was the Superego personified. "Maybe she's the clown he's trying to beat into submission," Blair joked. Jim's knuckles turned white as he clutched the wheel.
"Whoa, hey, joking. I do not need you in federal prison for shooting some protected species. Come on, you know the owl was there protecting her, just like your jaguar showed up to help you find your senses again and my wolf appeared when I was dead."
Jim did not look convinced of anything.
With a sigh, Blair closed his laptop. "I don't know. Maybe she's going to grow up to like rules. Maybe a spirit animal doesn't always match the personality." He frowned. "Maybe we should be looking at the owl symbolism of China where the owl is a symbol of yang—positive, active, bright energy. Hey, the owl was Athena's animal—a symbol of wisdom and just war. And some Native Peoples believe the owl brings bad luck and seeing an owl means there will be a death in your family. Face it, Jim, we can't exactly predict her future just because we know her spirit guide."
"But you're ready to say she's a Sentinel."
"Hey, you are not the only one with a spirit animal. She might be a guide," Blair pointed out. Of course, his gut told him he was full of shit, but his gut had been spectacularly wrong in the past.
"She's a Sentinel," Jim sighed.
"She tests normal on all the scales." Blair made a face. "Okay, so she's on the upper end, but she is in normal parameters for hearing and sight. I think she'll stay there until she needs her senses or until she goes on a quest for them. We just need to watch for situations where she might need her abilities. Until then, I think we should just..." Blair waved a hand helplessly because he honestly didn't know what they were supposed to do.
"Drive like hell and pretend this never happened," Jim supplied.
"Maybe just for now," Blair compromised.
Jim's mouth eased some, the hard line softening as his fingers stopped trying to strangle the wheel. "You know," he said softly, "For the first time, I don't just forgive my father, I understand him. I think he was wrong, but I understand him."
"Love makes you do crazy things," Blair agreed as he thought of his own determination to shoot the clowns.
"I'm just glad I have you in this with me," Jim said softly.
"Totally," Blair agreed. And he meant it.
The road under the wheel clicked past as the RV sped down the quiet road.
"We're still going to Disneyland next year."
Blair just shook his head as he watched the trees streak by, but he wasn't going to argue. Whether it was the Sandburg zone or the Ellison zone, Blair was ready to leave it behind and battle a few boring evils like commercialism. Blair really wasn't sure he wanted to know how much trouble followed when the Sandburg Zone and Sentinel Weirdness intersected. Outside, the owl dived straight for their front window. Jim pressed his lips together and kept his foot on the gas as the bird grew larger and larger until Blair clutched the arms of his seat and braced for one seriously messy impact. At the last second, the bird turned to smoke and the RV slammed through it, scattering the form into long, thin trails of curling mist. Oh yeah, a little boring would be good.
2011 April 17
Batting for the Other Team
"Are we supposed to stay in the kitchen the whole time?" Jim asked again as he heard shrieks coming from the girls' room.
"Totally," Blair agreed, "although I suppose we could go downstairs for coffee and a donut and talk about the Reynolds case."
"I am not leaving a dozen ten year olds in the loft alone," Jim came close to shrieking himself. He knew how much trouble the girls could get into alone. He'd found the broken bits and pieces shoved under the towels and behind the dryer in their unsuccessful attempts to hide whatever they broke while doing whatever they weren't supposed to do. His only consolation was knowing that his girls would never be criminals. They had to know at this point that they were pathetically bad at hiding the evidence.
"Oh man, you are wound way too tight."
"Chief, there are twelve ten year olds in that room. Twelve. Serial killers scare me less than a dozen tweens in one room."
"You know, you wouldn't have to be scared if you just stopped listening to them," Blair said with absolutely no sympathy.
"They talk about boys way too much," Jim pointed out as he grabbed a bottle of lemonade out of Blair's hand, tasting the salt of Blair's skin on the mouth of the bottle as he drank.
"They're girls, of course they do," Blair said, as he stole his lemonade back again.
"I hate that you're not worried about this," Jim said with a sigh. A round of giggling made him focus his hearing toward the room. "Chief, who is Zac Efron and is he really too old?"
"Totally," Blair agreed, and then he hit Jim in the stomach. "But seriously, if you don't stop eavesdropping, you're going to give them a complex and yourself an ulcer."
"They can't have a complex about what they don't know."
"Oh please," Blair snorted. "Man, you may be Mr. Cool in the interrogation room, but you suck at hiding things from the girls. You'd be asking them about Zac Efron by dinnertime if I let you. Now back off with the helicopter impression and let them be kids," Blair said with a dramatic roll of his eyes.
"Twelve of them, Chief. Twelve."
"I know," Blair said, and for the first time, Jim could see the worry breaking through the cracks in that cool façade. "But we have to trust them to... well, to not break anything major," Blair finished with a shrug.
The doorbell rang, and Jim headed for the door while giving Blair the skunk eye. He really had no idea how Blair managed to be so cool about the number of things their girls could break. And in Elizabeth's case, most of the breaking tended to be of bones, so this wasn't exactly reassuring. A broken finger at soccer, a broken wrist learning to ride horses, a broken arm falling out of a tree. Jim figured they'd be lucky if they didn't end up with Social Services knocking at their door one of these days with the girls' destructive capacity. At least Abby broke things instead of herself.
"Yes?" Jim asked as he looked at the unfamiliar man standing at his door.
"Are you Blair Sandburg?"
Jim's internal alarms all went off. The guy looked respectable enough, but with his sense of smell, Jim could identify at least three different types of alcohol and the sour stink of some sort of drug. His brown eyes were faintly streaked with red, and the man's large hands and thick forearms suggested that he did enough physical work to pose a real danger.
"James Ellison," he corrected the man without offering any more information than that. Behind him, Jim could hear Blair flip open his cell phone. The first six digits of the precinct beeped in the silence as the guy frowned in confusion. Obviously Blair was picking up some bad vibes, too.
"Oh," the guy finally offered. "I guess I have the wrong apartment, I thought my daughter was here."
Jim just stared at the man, trying to decide how to minimize any potential problems. The girls chose that moment to have another squealing moment. The man's eyes narrowed, and Jim crossed his arms over his chest in clear warning.
"And your daughter would be?"
"Who the fuck are you if you're not Sandburg?" the man demanded.
"I already answered that. Now, I don't want to make a scene at the girls' birthday party, so why don't you tell me who you are and what you need?" Jim said, keeping his voice low. He didn't keep it low enough because Abby's curly head came peeking around the corner, her wide eyes dark.
"Susan sent my little girl to a house with a couple of fags, didn't she? That bitch."
Jim heard a couple of things at once. Abby gasped, Elizabeth's footsteps ran down the hall to join her sister, and Blair finished dialing the station and called for backup.
"Look, you've had a little to drink. Let's take this downstairs and talk about it," Jim suggested. Putting himself in a situation where he'd be alone with this guy wasn't ideal, but it was better than having a confrontation in front of the girls. Blair stepped up behind him, though, so obviously Blair was not going to let him go without backup.
"Hey, I'm Blair Sandburg. This is my roommate, Detective Jim Ellison from Major Crimes," Blair introduced them, emphasizing the 'detective' part slightly. The man obvious didn't pick up on it—or he was drunk enough or stoned enough to not care.
"Fucking fags," he said even louder.
"Whoa, hey, you are so off on the wrong track here," Blair hurried to say. After fifteen years of watching Blair first chase every girl in sight and then settle down to a nice committed relationship with his hand, Jim could vouch for that. And now, with short curls starting to turn gray, he didn't even look gay. At least when people at the station had accused him of being homosexual all those years ago, they'd had some evidence based on the way the man looked. This asshole was just jumping to conclusions. And the conclusions kept right on coming.
"You fucking fags. Are you teaching my Bonnie to be a lesbian? Bonnie! Bonnie, you get out here right now!"
Jim gave Blair a nudge back from the door. After ten years of partnering, Blair caught the hint and headed for the phone to call Bonnie Olivias' mother. There was a scrambling of feet in the hallway to the girls' room, and Jim could hear Bonnie start to cry. Elizabeth was comforting her, and then Abby was telling her that Dad and Fehter would take care of it, only Abby was using words that Jim had really hoped his daughter didn't know. Well, he could deal with his little potty mouth later.
"You need to leave," Jim said firmly as he started to close the door. A huge work boot blocked him, and Jim just knew from experience that he couldn't close the door without getting into a full-out fight to move Mr. Olivias out of the doorway.
Jim didn't realize Elizabeth had returned until she was standing near her dad's bedroom door, hugging the wall. "Just leave her alone. You made her cry and you're not very nice!" she shouted. That made the guy pause.
"Honey, go back to your room," Jim said as quietly as he could with panic crawling through his guts. He couldn't smell gun oil, but who knows what kind of weapon this guy had on him, and Elizabeth was close enough to be in the middle of whatever happened. She hesitated, and Jim barked out sharply, "Now!"
"She's going to hate you if you make her cry all the time," Elizabeth offered a parting jab before running back for her room with the other little girls.
"You little bitch," the man hissed as he moved to step into the apartment. Jim let go of the door and sidestepped to protect the hall to the girls' room.
And then Blair was there at the door next to him. "Man, you are in so much shit right now. The police are going to be here any second, so you need to get out of here before you make this any worse."
"It's my fucking weekend. That fucking judge had no right to say I couldn't take her on my weekends!" Olivias snarled as he moved toward Blair. Jim could see his partner reach behind him and grab the tazer he had tucked into the back of his pants.
"Hey, take it up with the judge. But I have ice cream that's going to melt, so you need to just go take a walk and cool down, okay?" Blair urged the man.
For a second, Jim thought it was going to work. The man frowned and looked from Blair to Jim and back. Slowly his mouth twisted into a nasty smile. “You're the fucking girl in the relationship, aren't you? You like taking it up the fucking ass from a pig?"
Jim tensed up, but Blair just laughed. The man had never backed down in the face of Jim's intimidation, but he took a half step away from Blair's laughter.
"Oh man, you are way off base. Jim is as straight as straight comes. You can use him for a ruler." Jim frowned at that description, but also at the truthfulness he could hear in Blair's voice. Since when did Blair consider him obsessively straight? He'd flirted with men. Hell, he'd flirted with Blair since the first morning when Blair had cooked breakfast and Jim had called it a mating ritual or a courting ritual or something like that. Surely Blair wasn't that thick? "And as for me... no way do I date anyone. I work for the police department. Do you have any idea the stats for how often abuse is the result of a new relationship? Absolutely no way. So Bonnie is learning absolutely nothing here with the possible exception of how to French braid her hair."
But whatever headway Blair had made was already eroding. Olivias shook his head and had an angry set to his mouth. "Fucking fags and fucking cops and fucking judge. You're just trying to take my Bonnie away. I'll fucking kill you."
Olivias didn't get any farther. Jim raised his fists more as a distraction than out of any real desire to hit the man, but while Olivias was focused on him, Blair pulled out the tazer and shot him. The scream brought the girls tumbling out of their room, and Jim bellowed for them to get back. The wires from the stun gun were still firmly embedded in Olivias, but Jim didn't bother to try and retrieve them. He grabbed the door and slammed it, ripping the wires out of the tazer unit.
Blair looked at him with disgust. "Man, that is the third tazer I've damaged. Joel is going to start taking the repair bills out of my paycheck." Jim threw the heavy locks. If he were on the job, he'd follow up by cuffing the guy, but with the girls here, he just wanted a nice steel door between them.
"You'll live, Chief," Jim said as he focused his hearing past the door. Olivias was panting, but his heart was steady as he shuffled to a wall and cursed. Blair's hand rested against his back and Jim struggled to identify the sounds for any potential threat. The tinkle of thin glass warned him to dial down hearing.
"The fire alarm's about to go off," he warned Blair and anyone else with sharp enough hearing to catch his words. Two seconds later, the siren blasted through the building.
"Dammit, I need to call Mrs. Pembroke and tell her it's a false alarm before she tries to get out in her walker," Blair yelled as he went for the phone, taking it out onto the balcony where the alarm wasn't as loud. The police sirens showed up before the fire department, and then Jim could hear Blair call Henri's cellphone and explain the alarm. The noise cut off shortly after that.
"Fehter?" Abby asked as she stood in the hall.
"It's fine, hon," Jim said as he listened to Olivias curse brilliantly as the noise disappeared without any of them leaving the loft.
Eventually other little faces appeared behind Abby, first Liz and then the other girls. Bonnie had swollen, red eyes and one of the girls had an arm around her. For long seconds, Jim just sort of stared helplessly at them and really wished Blair would hurry with the phone calls. Henri did not need a full report over the phone.
"Sometimes when people love us very much, we can do things that are a little crazy because we're afraid of losing them," Jim said to little Bonnie, feeling incredibly awkward now that the drama was over. Henri was now on his way up, and he could hear Joel explaining what had happened to the firefighters. It wasn't normal for the captain to show up on scene, but then the whole Major Crimes crew was protective of the girls, so Jim wasn't all that surprised. Looking at the little faces that were staring at him looking for some sort of explanation, Jim sighed and tried again. "Your dad loves you and misses you, and he's just making some really bad decisions right now."
"He's drinking," Bonnie said softly, and tears gathered in her eyes again. Luckily Blair appeared to take over the comforting because Jim always felt inadequate in that department. "I should go help Henri," Jim said as he made his escape from the scene. It was probably good that he and Caro never had kids because they both would have been trying to avoid the messy, emotional parts, which would have left no one to talk to the girls.
Henri already had Olivias cuffed and on the ground when Jim opened the door. He was going through the man's billfold and checking for warrants on his cellphone.
"Jim," Joel said as he came out of the elevator. "This the guy?"
"Yeah," Jim agreed. He gave his report with only part of his attention on the job while he listened to Blair explain about decisions and pain and how some people tried to hide from their pain and how the pain never went away if you did that. The girls asked some pretty pointed questions about alcohol and drugs and Blair answered maybe a little too honestly for Jim's taste. Jim would have preferred the 'all drugs evil' speech, but Blair was off on ceremonial uses of drugs versus dependence on drugs, and if nothing else, he was confusing the girls into silence on the whole issue.
"Jim, are the girls okay?" Joel asked.
"Yeah. Bonnie's crying, but Blair already called her mother, and she's on her way," Jim answered automatically, still listening to Blair deal with the messy aftermath. "I should—" Jim gestured toward the loft.
"We have Mr. Bright Ideas," Henri said as he pulled the cuffed and Mirandized Ray Olivias toward the elevator.
"Thanks," Jim said with a nod.
"Jim," Joel said, and he stopped and gave his captain his attention. "Good for you, putting those little girls ahead of getting the collar. You made the right choice," Joel offered as he gave Jim a slap on the arm.
"Thanks, Joel. I just need to get back to my family," he said as he turned back toward the loft. Inside, he found that Blair had gone back to the girls' room and was on Liz's bed while the girls were all gathered around. Jim leaned against the door to the girls' room and watched them. If Jim had to pick anyone in the universe to raise children with, Blair was the best choice.
"So, the minute you start thinking that you need a drink or that you'd feel better if you took a pill, you are in so much trouble," Blair explained. "And that's the kind of trouble you just can't crawl out of yourself. That's when you have to ask for help no matter how much it scares you. I mean, doing something scary is the definition of brave, right?" Blair asked them. A dozen heads nodded at him. Abby was sitting so close she was almost in her dad's lap.
"Mr. Sandburg?" Bonnie said timidly and then she just stopped.
"What is it, honey?"
She bit her lip and looked over at Liz and Abby for a second. "I'm really sorry about what my dad said."
"Oh hon, that's not your fault," Blair reassured her.
Jim gave a little laugh. "You should have heard some of the dumb things my dad said when I was young. Sometimes you can't help the fact that parents are a little..." Jim tried to figure out what word he could use to finish that without being too hard on his dad.
"Fatuous?" Blair suggested with a smile. They were having to stretch farther and farther to avoid words the girls knew. This time Blair had stretched so far that Jim had no idea what the word actually meant, but he could hear the tone of voice Blair was using.
"Exactly," he agreed. "And when my dad got older, he stopped being so weird about some things, and now he's a great dad and grandfather," he finished.
"My dad still shouldn't have said those things," Bonnie said in a small voice.
Blair draped an arm around her shoulders. "No, he shouldn't have. But you know what? That is so not your fault because I know you'd never say those things."
"I really wouldn't," Bonnie said almost desperately. "My mom says that love is beautiful wherever it is, and that if two men can overcome whatever gene makes men selfish jerks and love each other, that's amazing."
Blair choked back his laughter. "She does?" He coughed to control his laugh, and even Jim had to smile at that. Mrs. Olivias was obviously having a hard time with men right now.
"My dad said that it's stupid that gays can't marry because you two have been together longer than any of his three marriages," Karen Hunt offered. That stopped every trace of laughter in Blair and he looked up at Jim. Jim had absolutely no explanation. They always introduced him as the girls' uncle, and it wasn't like he and Blair shared a room or kissed in public.
"Honey, Mr. Ellison and I are best friends," Blair said seriously.
"My mom said I wasn't supposed to say words like gay around you," Aisha Crosley offered.
"You mean, you talk about my dad and my fehter and... sex?" Abby nearly whispered, clearly disgusted by the whole idea, although Jim figured the disgust was more about parents having sex than any latent homophobia in his very tolerant daughter.
"Abby!" Aisha gasped with clear horror.
"Dad and Fehter don't have... you know," Liz agreed, wrinkling her nose up, and now the other girls looked utterly confused. Great. Jim really had to wonder what the hell was wrong with parents that would discuss other people's private lives, especially when they got it so spectacularly wrong. He'd taken his shot at Blair, and been kindly turned down back when they'd first roomed together. In fact, thinking back to that conversation where Blair first admitted to being intersex, he'd said that if he were into men, he'd have to have anal sex like any other man, which implied that he wasn't gay. Or he hadn't been gay because that was a strange response he'd given to Mr. Olivias. Right now, though, Blair was leaning back against the wall, obviously getting ready for a long story.
"I'm going to tell you a story about two friends," Blair started.
"Best friends?" Bonnie asked.
"Not back then. Jim was more of a just 'hanging out with' friend. And he came over to my house to get a camera I had borrowed and we were going to watch a movie." At Blair's words, Liz smiled; she knew what was coming next. "But the people next door made really bad decisions too, and they were making drugs and their apartment blew up."
"Really?!" several of the girls asked, and Blair nodded his head.
"Yep, kaboom. And it took down a whole wall in my apartment and all my stuff got smoke in it and then the firefighters came and got water on my stuff and it was a real mess, and I begged Jim to let me stay at his house."
"What about your mom?" Karla asked, all wide eyed.
"Grandma is hard to find. She goes on long journeys," Liz said authoritatively.
"That's right," Blair agreed. "And I needed somewhere to stay, so I promised Jim I would only stay for two weeks."
"Who was your best friend back then?" Aisha asked.
Blair's lips quirked into a smile as he looked over at Jim. "I guess Larry was."
"Didn't he have a house?"
"Nope. Larry was kinda shiftless," Blair said, winking at Abby and Liz who knew exactly who Larry had been. "But Jim let me move in, and I started working at the police department, and we found out that we were best friends."
"But you don't do married stuff?" Jamie Seden asked.
"Nope, no married stuff," Blair agreed. "But we do lots of fun stuff. One time, before the girls were born, Jim and I went up to a monastery. That's a place where monks go to pray and be closer to god, only one of the monks wasn't really a monk..."
Jim backed out of the room and left Blair telling the girls stories, trusting that his guide would be as good at calming Bonnie as he was at calming most people. Jim headed for the door to try and head off Mrs. Olivias and explain things before an hysterical mother could upset the girls all over again. He supposed the 'uncle' explanation hadn't worked as well as they'd hoped, but he honestly didn't get why so many of the parents had just jumped to the conclusion that he and Blair were intimate. But even more, he didn't get Blair's whole conversation with Mr. Olivias. As Jim headed downstairs, he replayed that speech of Blair's in his head over and over, trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle that simply didn't fit anymore.
Moving onto the Field
"Whoa. What happened? All my shit is gone," Blair was already saying half way up the stairs to Jim's room.
"Your daughters and your mother happened."
"Um, Jim, what the hell are you talking about? And when did they become just my daughters?"
"Since they staged a coup," Jim said as he sat on the edge of his bed and looked around at his formerly neat and tidy room. Blair's shoes were tumbling out of the closet, one dresser drawer wouldn't close at all and brightly colored quilts were stacked against the wall.
Blair was a couple of steps from the top when he spotted the disaster that was Jim's room. "Oh man, what the hell did they do?"
With a dry laugh, Jim gestured at all of Blair's stuff shoved into the corners of his room. "They talked to their grandmother. Their grandmother explained that love is beautiful in all its forms but that sometimes people are afraid of love because other people are assholes. Chief, you really need to sit down and give Naomi the 'best friends' speech."
Blair blushed and his heart did a quick double time beat. Jim raised an eyebrow at his friend. The last two months had been harder than the last fifteen years, so he really wasn't in a mood to have a light and funny conversation about misunderstood sexuality. And the shame that drifted from Blair's skin wasn't improving his mood at all.
"Naomi helped them..." Blair waved a hand toward the far side of Jim's bedroom where a truly ugly mask stared down at them. "Okay, I can get all this stuff out of here, no problem, but we definitely need to discuss what we're going to tell Liz and Abby."
"How about that their grandmother is a busybody?" Jim suggested. This was just wrong. Not the part where Blair's stuff was upstairs because Jim had been obsessed with that fantasy for the last two months. He hadn't had a case of lust this bad since Blair moved in, at least if he ignored Sentinel induced insanity. However, having his two daughters in the middle of this mess that threatened to tear his family apart sent fear creeping through Jim's heart. Kids should not be in the middle of something like this, and damn Naomi for dropping this little bomb before running for her latest spiritual retreat.
"You know she's just trying to help."
"Chief." Jim just stopped and sighed. "She's convinced our daughters that we're sleeping together."
"Um, from the fact that they felt the need to move me up here, I think they assume we're not sleeping together," Blair pointed out as he cautiously sat on the edge of the bed next to Jim. Jim raised an eyebrow at him. "Yeah, yeah, they're probably thinking we're sleeping together now, but before, they were obviously thinking we were repressing."
"Chief, they are ten years old. I do not want my ten year olds even knowing the word sex much less considering who is sharing whose bed."
"Which would be you being repressed." Blair barely breathed the words, but Jim heard them anyway, and he practically exploded off the bed as he directed his nebulous anger toward the railing that he slapped with his open hand.
"They're too fucking young. And I'm not the repressed bastard around this house!"
"Check out the mirror, Jim!" Blair snapped. "Have you even watched television lately? And sex is natural. The hang-ups people have... now those are seriously unnatural, but this is..." Blair waved his hand at the disorderly room. "This is two children and one totally overly involved grandmother trying to make the people they love happy."
"Yeah, I get it. I know I'm not your first choice of bedpartners, and when the girls come home, we just need to sit them down and talk about how love comes in all forms and the fact that we aren't together does not mean that we aren't like totally stable. The girls are just still a little off balance from Asshole Olivias' attack. And can I just say that a kid's birthday party is so not the time to get your politically incorrect head lodged up your ass?"
Jim just stared at Blair for long minutes, until Blair started to shift nervously on the bed and pick at the edge of the pillow.
"What?" Blair finally demanded.
"You aren't my choice of bedpartner?" Jim asked, finally having a chance to bring up the topic. For two months he'd tried to unobtrusively bring up Blair's words to Olivias, to discuss Blair's unwavering belief that Jim was straight, and at every turn, Blair had used his clever tongue to slip out of the conversation. Yeah, Jim had lots of problems with what Naomi had done. Lots. Not wanting Blair as a bedpartner wasn't even on the list. Blair slowly turned a dull shade of red.
"Our family is just trying in their own bizarre little way to make..."
"You aren't my first choice of bedpartners? Where the hell did that come from, Sandburg?" Jim demanded. He closed in on the bed and stood with his arms crossed in front of Blair.
Blair only rolled his eyes. "Look, my mother may think you're a repressed, stick-up-his ass cop with no idea of what an emotion even feels like, but I know full well that you're capable of expressing emotions when you want to. So, we just need to sit the girls and my mother down and explain that we can love each other without being attracted to each other."
"You aren't attracted to me?" Jim asked, confused about where this conversation was going, and he didn't like being confused.
"No way. I never said that."
"Then you are attracted to me."
"Ellison, you can be one serious asshole. Look—"
"I'm attracted to you," Jim interrupted before Blair could go darting off on one of his tangents.
For long seconds, Blair just stared at him. "You're... what?"
"I'm attracted to you," Jim repeated as he tried to keep the smug look off his face. It wasn't often that he got to catch Blair so completely off guard.
"You're attracted to me? You're... and this is only now coming up?" Blair demanded.
"Only bringing it up now? Where the hell were you the first three fucking years we lived together?" Jim demanded.
"Watching you chase redheads and blondes," Blair snapped back.
"Me? God, Chief, you slept with the female half of the forensics staff."
"No way," Blair insisted. "I dated a lot of them, but most of those dates did not get past second base."
"I called breakfast a courtship ritual, I shot a man a half dozen times because he threatened you, and I certainly didn't argue with Brackett who obviously thought we were having sex."
"He had a gun. You wouldn't have argued if he'd said the sky was yellow. And you also chased that woman who worked for the Yakuza and Alex and Lila and Laura."
"I didn't follow any of them to a monastery. I didn't chase them into tunnels that could have collapse at any minute or introduce any of them to my family. I never trusted a single one of them with my senses, and despite your suggestion that I drop my pants for half the criminals in Cascade, you are the only one I ever flashed with that old falling towel trick."
"Except the woman on the oil rig," Blair said, but suddenly he sounded a lot less sure of himself.
"She ordered me to drop my towel. I did it on purpose with you. Blair, what the hell ever made you think I was as straight as a ruler?" He sat down next to Blair on the bed.
"Oh man," Blair whispered, "I just..."
"How could you not have known that I was interested?" Jim asked, and maybe he let a little too much of his hurt show because Blair flinched away.
"I just... I didn't."
"Blair," Jim sighed. "Look, whatever the reason, you're not interested, and I respect that. I've always respected that, Chief. I'll help you move your stuff back downstairs."
"Abby claimed my bedroom," Blair said weakly.
"Well, she can unclaim it," Jim said without too much pity as he headed for the wall and pulled the mask off it with a little more energy than it really required.
"I was afraid," Blair said quietly.
"Of what?" Jim asked, suddenly not sure he was tracking the conversation. Blair sat on the edge of the bed, his head hanging in a familiar pose of distress. "Blair?"
"I was so busy trying to find my identity. I mean, the whole intersex thing was only part of it. I was in college at sixteen, and being this wunderkind had become part of who I was, only when we met, I was starting to get old enough that I wasn't such a big deal any more. Man, I talked a big game about being in touch with myself, but I didn't even know up from down. I didn't notice you were interested because I was so totally paranoid about proving my manhood."
Jim stood with the mask in his hand, floored at that revelation.
"And now I've spent years trying to control lust so strong it could have generated electricity for half the city, and you just blithely announce you're attracted to me."
"Years?" Jim asked incredulously.
"I had those eggs harvested, and you still respected me as a guy. And then you had this whole protective thing going, and I never would have thought that would be a turn on, but it was. And when I would tell you to back off and you respected me enough to actually do it... man, I was so totally head over heels, but I couldn't say anything because you didn't even notice me that way and no way could I risk the family."
"I noticed, I just had a lot more practice at pretending not to," Jim admitted. "Fuck, Sandburg, we are a real pair, aren't we?"
"I can't say I'm not scared," Jim admitted. "It's been years since I tried the dating thing, and even longer since I dated a guy. And I'm willing to admit that my relationships with men were about sex, not building a family, and that is not what I want from you. And I'm terrified that if we change the way we see each other, that I'm going to end up losing everything I love in this world."
"No way. You never have to worry about losing me as a friend or a guide, and you really never have to worry about losing the girls," Blair said firmly. "And as for us trying to be lovers, you know I so can't make promises about that. I mean, I might have some huge identify crisis and go screaming out into the night, but I promise... I *promise* that even if it doesn't work out, I will still be your guide and this will still be your family."
"Don't say that, Blair," Jim warned. It was just too easy for him to believe his guide, and without that fear of disaster, Jim couldn't keep himself from doing something that threatened to disrupt the family he'd built here.
"I mean it. My father stood up in a church and promised to always stand by my mother, and he drove her away. But she didn't just leave him, she left me and Stevie, too. You can't tell me that this isn't going to fall apart if we do something this drastic."
"I can't say that this isn't going to fall apart if we just keep going like we are. Hell, I can't say that I'm not going to get hit by an asteroid tomorrow," Blair snorted. "Man, precognition is not one of my skills."
"But if we..." Jim gestured toward all of Blair's things in his room before he dropped the mask on his dresser.
"If we make a disaster out of your room by cramming too much stuff into one dresser?" Blair joked. Jim gave him a shit look, and Blair laughed. "Okay, let's set some ground rules; you're good with rules."
"Rules? Sandburg is asking to make house rules?" Jim said with a laugh that made Blair look at him strangely. Jim suspected that he still sounded more afraid than anything else—and he was. He was terrified.
"Those girls are half yours. If we get in a relationship and end up screaming at each other or if we don't get in a relationship and some leggy redhead steals you out from under me, those girls are still yours. You're never going to lose your daughters unless you walk out of their lives."
"Never," Jim blurted. He'd cut off an arm before he'd walk away from his girls.
Blair smiled. "Yeah, I kinda knew that already. But genetically you are their father, and legally I couldn't take them from you if I tried. Hell, William would throw every penny behind you in a custody case. That man might have been a shitty father, but he's doing his best to try and make up for that in the grandfather department."
Jim nodded at that. His father truly was trying to make up for the years when he'd been too busy to play with him and Stevie. Left to his own devices, the man would probably spoil the girls rotten, and Jim would probably let him. He'd never expected Blair and Naomi to be the brakes on this little family train, talking to the girls about sharing and making them carry their old toys down to the domestic abuse shelter for the other children.
"And I will always be your guide and friend. Even when I was pissed as hell at you, and you have to admit that we've had some pretty rocky spots in our past, I was always your friend and guide."
"But if I want more?"
"No fucking clue how it's going to work," Blair admitted with a shrug. "But that has never stopped me from doing what I want."
"This scares the shit out of me," Jim admitted.
"Oh man, you? I have like no experience with the whole nuclear family concept and even less with the gay scene. And now our own nuclear family is conspiring against us," Blair sighed as he looked at the room again. "We've figured out the co-parenting thing, but I am so not sure I know how to fit into the traditional couple with kids model."
"At least you don't have a string of failures in your past. My father's marriage, my marriage, and while I hope it's not true, I think Stephen is headed for a brutal divorce. I don't have any good examples for this, Blair. I mean, when this is us being friends, I know the rules for friendship, but I don't think I know the rules for more."
Blair snorted. "Man, we both suck on the friendship front, I hate to tell you. Big time suck."
Thinking back on the mistakes they'd both made, the assumptions and hurt feelings and inadvertent betrayals, Jim had to admit that was true enough. "Yeah, we do. But we've stuck through it," Jim said softly as he let his hand move over to rest on Blair's thigh.
"Not without wanting to kill each other from time to time," Blair pointed out with a slow smile.
"If you're up here, I don't have to go as far to strangle you when you do something like bring home nude pictures for my daughters to see."
"It was an art book, Jim. And children should not be raised to believe there's anything wrong with the human form."
"My six year old daughter asking to see my penis was... that was not right in any way shape or form."
"You handled it great Jim. I mean, that whole discussion of private parts and private times and how you have to choose carefully... man, that was a parental speech to end all parental speeches. I should have taped that one," Blair pointed out.
"Yeah, until the girls asked if we shared our private parts," Jim groaned as he remembered that moment.
"I thought Naomi was going to explode from trying to hold the laughter in," Blair smiled as he remembered.
"Blair," Jim said as he thought back a bit, "didn't Naomi move out not long after that?"
"Yeah," Blair said, obviously not putting two and two together. However, Jim had a sudden suspicion that Naomi's unexpected decision to take up her old lifestyle might have had something more at its core than she had claimed at the time. "Jim, we've been together for fifteen years. If we both feel an attraction, adding a sexual relationship won't change the emotional ties we've built up over years." Blair let his own hand rest on the back of Jim's.
"And if it doesn't work out?" Jim asked, his chest tight with either fear or need, he couldn't decide which.
"Then we muddle through, the way we've muddled through everything, and we don't let each other forget that we loved each other before we ever made this decision," Blair said softly.
Blair's fingers traced tiny circles against Jim's fingers, the gentle touch sending prickles of desire down Jim's arm. "I love you, man. I love you more than I've loved anyone in my life, with the exception of those two girls. The three of you are my life."
Jim had never been good with words. He'd never known the right ones to say, not when he was standing in the door of his childhood home begging his father to be nice to his mom, not when he'd stood stoically silent as Caro packed her bags, not even when Elizabeth asked what a faggot was. He never knew the right words to keep anything from falling apart. Instead he reached over and let his palm rest against Blair's cheek, soaking in the warmth and trusting Blair to get him through this.
Silently, Blair watched with deep blue eyes. Dialing up his sense of touch until he could feel the pulse of blood below the skin, Jim let his hand wander down to Blair's neck and then slide under the shirt to rest against his shoulder.
"Jim?" Blair whispered.
Jim leaned in slowly, giving Blair every opportunity to escape before he pressed his lips to Blair's. At first he moved gently, but Blair's mouth came open and his fingers caught Jim's shirt, pulling him close. And years of wanting, of respecting, of loving the man all erupted into one moment of pure white lust. Jim grabbed the back of Blair's head and pulled him close as he kissed him hard. Blair responded immediately, clutching Jim and moaning in lust.
Pulling back, Jim caught Blair's lower lip between his teeth for a moment before he kissed a trail down to Blair's chest.
"Fuck," Blair breathed, and Jim half lifted the man and dropped him in the middle of the bed as he tasted the salt from Blair's skin and worked on the buttons of Blair's shirt. Finally getting Blair's shirt open, Jim ran his hands over the chest below, his fingers tingling at the crinkle of hair beneath his fingertips until they found the tight nipples.
When Jim sat back and slowly rolled each nipple between his thumb and finger, Blair's mouth fell open and his back arched. Throwing his arms wide and fisting the sheets, Blair started a mantra of soft curses as Jim leaned in and kissed a nipple before sucking it into his mouth. The noises from Blair ceased to be words and became a random jumble of sounds that tumbled from him without meaning or censor.
Jim smiled at the growing evidence of Blair's desire as he sat back and slowly unbuttoned his own shirt. Blair blinked up at him, his chest heaving as he watched each inch of skin appear. Slowly, Blair let go of the sheet and moved his hand up and over Jim's thigh, his fingers kneading the tight muscles under his hand. Dropping his shirt onto the floor, Jim reached down for his belt, only to have Blair catch his wrist and stop him. He pushed himself up from the bed and reached for Jim's belt, pulling it open before working the button on his pants.
Jim hissed in need and leaned back so that Blair had room to unzip him, and immediately, Jim's cock pressed out, stretching the fabric of his boxers. Blair scooted closer, his hands reaching toward Jim and stroking up his body until he reached Jim's nipples and ran fingers over them. For a second, Jim lost all thought as Blair slid his hands down to teasingly brush against Jim's trapped cock. Unable to take any more, Jim reached down and tore off his pants and boxers, letting his erection bounce against his lower stomach.
"Oh man," Blair breathed as he pushed himself back a bit. Jim gave a wicked smile and closed in on his partner, reaching for Blair's zipper. At Jim's first touch over the trapped cock, Blair shivered and moaned low in his throat. Jim abandoned the idea of teasing Blair and quickly pulled off his pants and underwear, leaving Blair laying spread out on the bed and gasping.
Jim lay beside him, their legs tangling. When Blair reached for him, Jim ran a thumb over the head of Blair's cock. Blair made a strangled shout and thrust his hips up. Oh yeah, Blair was all man. Giving his partner a salacious look, Jim slowly slid down Blair's body, peppering that broad chest with a few random kisses until he reached Blair's small, perfectly formed cock.
Glancing up, he could see Blair watching with wide eyes, his short curls sticking up every which way, which made him look suddenly young. Without warning, Jim took Blair in his mouth, sliding down until the head of Blair's cock nudged the back of his throat and his tight curls tickled Jim's nose. Immediately, he could feel the cock heat as blood rushed to it and it thickened some. Jim had tried this once before in college, and he hadn't gotten much out of it, but now, feeling Blair's need throbbing in his mouth, Jim moaned his own need.
A hand found his erection, fisting it almost too tightly, and Jim instinctively bucked into the tightness, forgetting his own task and absentmindedly sucking at his prize while his own nerves thrilled at the sensation. He lost control over his touch dial, and suddenly Jim could feel every cell in his body. His lips could distinguish between every swollen cell in Blair's cock, and Jim lost himself in the pleasure of running his lips up and down.
The aching in his own balls became unbearable, and Jim paused as his hips drove instinctively into Blair's touch, tightening as his orgasm flowed through him, whiting out the world for a moment. And then Jim went back to his prize, his lips brushing against the head of Blair's cock and suddenly taste spiraled out of control. Salt, something that tasted like soda, something smoky, and something bright that Jim could only call Blair, filled his awareness, and Jim sucked harder to get more of the taste. Dimly aware of the sound of a rough shout, Jim found himself swallowing as the flavor filled his mouth.
Slowly, more conscious awareness returned to Jim and he let Blair's soft cock fall from his mouth as he slowly moved back up to lie next to his guide. Blair was staring up at the ceiling, his chest heaving, but his hands still reached blindly for Jim as he settled in beside him.
"Oh man," Blair finally breathed.
"We need another dresser up here," Jim said as he cataloged the smell of his own semen against Blair's skin and the smell of lust still lingering in the air and the dust brought up with Blair's quilts.
"That's all you have to say?" Blair asked with a huff.
"Yep," Jim said smugly. "After that, I'm not letting you move back downstairs."
Blair chuckled and shifted around some until he was lying close, his arm thrown over Jim's chest. Jim took that as his agreement.
2014 April 17
Scrimmages and Boys
"I'm in hell," Jim growled as he tried to ignore the boy making cow eyes at his daughters. Hell didn't even cover this situation. Hell with a side of homicidal rage came closer. If he just broke a couple of arms, he could probably keep these vultures away from his daughters for a good year or two. Then again, maybe not considering how Abigail smiled and kept giving the boy next to her sly looks.
"Just keep stirring and don't make eye contact. If the boys spot the look on your face, they're going to be running for the hills."
"That would be the point, Chief," Jim pointed out with more than a little maliciousness as he stirred the frosting.
"You're going to have a stroke before they turn sixteen, aren't you?" Blair asked as he took the bowl away and started working on the cake.
Sticking his finger in the bowl and stealing some frosting, Jim considered the room. Elizabeth was playing a game with a couple of kids, and she was sprawled unselfconsciously on the floor. Abigail, however, was working the room more like Naomi than anyone else. They might have lost the older woman to a stroke, but watching Abby flash a smile at one boy after another and breeze from one group to another, Jim couldn't help but think of her. And that worried him. Naomi had grown into an incredible woman, but he still didn't approve of the choices she'd made as a young woman, and watching his thirteen year old daughter flirt was not comfortable. "I just might," Jim finally agreed.
"Dammit," Liz swore as she threw the game controller down.
Jim opened his mouth to yell the obligatory warning when Blair's elbow landed in his stomach, seemingly by accident as he finished up with the frosting. "Here, you can lick the bowl," Blair offered Jim the frosting bowl as a prize for not yelling about the random curse. Intellectually, Jim understood that the kids needed a little more freedom now. Emotionally, he still wanted to think that they didn't know curse words. Liz added one or two more curses and then gave Andy a punch on the arm for beating her at the game. He hit her back and Liz gave up her spot to a boy with freckles who promised to make Andy pay. Okay, Jim was mature enough to admit that a random curse or two was not the end of the world and yelling at Li z would probably just ruin the birthday party. He could accept that. But Abby was now definitely flirting, and Jim could feel a primal need to just drag her to her bedroom and lock her in for about a decade.
Jim sucked frosting off a finger and watched her do a classic hair flip for Carlos, whose wide eyes followed her every move.
"Man, you're growling," Blair hissed.
"I am not," Jim snapped. Carlos Gutierrez. Okay, his family was respectable enough, but the kid was a dweeb. Liz used to regularly kick his ass on the soccer field. Abby laughed, and Jim flinched as the sound hit him like fingernails down a chalkboard.
Blair's laughter soothed his abused nerves, and Jim glanced over at his guide in confusion. "Oh man, you are so losing it. I mean, yeah, I figured you would lose it but you're starting a little earlier than I expected."
"I'm starting early? Chief, our daughter is out there flirting... flirting with Carlos Gutierrez... and every other boy in the room."
"And at least one girl. I'm fairly sure that Candy Terrell is more interested in Abby than the boys," Blair added, and Jim glanced over at the short brunette. She was smiling at David, but now that Jim paid attention, the expression did look a little forced.
"At least Candy isn't a dweeb," Jim sighed as Abby reached over and put her hand on Carlos' arm. At least she then turned her back and headed for a knot of girls and boys eating hotdogs.
"Back off," Blair said with both a laugh and a punch to the arm, so Jim was definitely getting a mixed message there.
"I haven't broken any arms yet," Jim pointed out as evidence that this was him being laid back. Blair stared at him for a long minute before he laughed again and shook his head.
"The paranoid father strikes again," he offered sadly before he picked up the cake. "So, who wants to help the birthday girls eat way too much sugar?" he yelled over the general din. A shout went up, and for a time, Jim was distracted from glaring at boys as he tried to dish out ice cream to the hordes. He'd had no idea that twenty kids could eat so much, but the boys in particular just seemed to shove it in without tasting it.
Eventually all the kids were fed and happy, and they retreated to a number of little clusters all talking about things that didn't make a whole lot of sense to Jim. The group with Abby was rating the merits of particular bands, but he tuned out when they turned to rating the band hotties. It was easier to listen to Liz and her group argue about who would kick whose ass on the field. A group with Carlos in it were talking about the technical specs of some holo game that was coming out, but then Jim already knew Carlos was a little dweebish.
He and Blair had retreated back to the kitchen to rinse paper plates and shove them into the recycling bin.
"Man, I wish Mom was here to see this," Blair said softly.
"Me, too, Chief." Jim thought about what Naomi would see when she watched her granddaughters work the room. "She'd be proud of those girls... they have every boy in the room wrapped around their fingers," he sighed. And it was true. Liz might not be as aware of it... maybe... but the boys in her group were pretty damn quick to agree with whatever she said, and Jim suspected that her developing curves probably influenced that.
"No way. Are you calling Naomi manipulative?" Blair looked up with a frown that kept twitching at the corners, so Jim was perfectly aware that he was trying not to smile.
"Maybe a little," Jim admitted. It felt good like this, remembering the real Naomi, the woman who equally amazed and exasperated him. In the two months since she'd died of the stroke, her name had been said with such sadness that Jim figured she was probably ready to roll her eyes and reach from beyond the grave to bop all of them upside the heads.
"She was pretty good at getting her way," Blair admitted with a shrug.
Jim nodded as he watched Abby flop back onto the floor in exasperation at something one of the other girls said. "Chief, our daughters learned at the feet of a true master."
For a long minute Blair was silent, but the expression on his face revealed a hundred different thoughts. Jim reached out and rested his hand on Blair's back. Eventually, Blair looked up toward the ceiling. "I wonder if she's up there watching."
"I can't imagine she's not," Jim said seriously. "Naomi pretty much went wherever she wanted, and I can't see her leaving her granddaughters behind."
"Yeah, and we know there's something after death, don't we?"
"That we do, Chief," Jim agreed. Blair gave up on the last of the paper plates and turned so that he could slip an arm around Jim's waist. When Blair got one of his devilish looks, Jim braced himself for something outrageous.
"So, do you think she ever peeks in on..." Blair nodded toward the master bedroom in the loft.
"Do not even think it," Jim warned darkly. That was a thought to kill their sex life.
"Hey, man, I'm just saying—"
"You're saying nothing."
"I mean, she helped give us a push," Blair teased as he smiled widely.
"Sandburg," Jim warned in his darkest tone of voice.
"It's not like anything we do is going to shock her. I mean, she was one of the original 'free love' flower children, so trust me, she's been in orgies way more interesting than anything we get up to," Blair shrugged.
Since threats weren't working, Jim switched over to pleading. "Chief..."
"Man, your repressed is repressed even." The corners of Blair's eyes crinkled in laughter.
"Oh yeah? Oh yeah?" Jim demanded playfully as he grabbed for Blair, catching a handful of shirt. Blair laughed and twisted away, but Jim held on as he tried to get his partner in a headlock. Blair retaliated with a hit to Jim's stomach, and Jim really suspected that Blair just liked feeling up his abs because every hit the man made connected in that same spot. It didn't distract Jim from catching Blair around the neck and forcing him to bend in preparation for giving him a good noogie.
"Dad! Fehter!" a voice hissed, and Jim immediately let Blair go and turned to fine Abby staring at them like they had just turned green or something. It wasn't exactly the first time Jim had wrestled with Blair or with the girls for that matter, but she was clearly horrified.
"Hey, honey," Blair said as he straightened his shirt.
"Daaaad," Abby objected in that pained voice that made it oh-so-clear that her parents were acting like goobers.
Jim cleared his throat. "Are you having fun, Abby?" Jim asked, watching as she blushed and then glanced over at several of the boys who were watching. She was way too young to know how to use that particular expression. Jim was going to be in hell for a good long time.
"You guys are so embarrassing," she hissed. "Seriously. You're damaging my reputation here."
Jim almost felt guilty seeing the sincere expression of horror on Abby's face.
"Or damaging your chance to be a cheerleader. Lame, Ab," Liz said as she wandered into the kitchen and passed them all to grab a drink. Grabbing two sodas she retreated right back out of the kitchen and headed for the corner where some of the kids had the holocube on again.
"Hey, Abby, it's totally cool to go after cheerleading, so don't listen to Miss Grumpyguts there," Blair offered as he reached out to rest a hand on Abby's shoulder. "But seriously... you don't need people who leave you embarrassed about who you are."
"I'm not embarrassed about me. I'm embarrassed about you," she whispered in a desperate tone. "You're parents, and you're being all weird." Jim had seen this mood plenty when he'd coached the girls. Abby did not like to be hovered over; when she gotten older, she hadn't wanted people to know her Fehter was a coach because that was just too humiliating. If she cut her arm off, she'd probably insist on driving herself to the hospital, and he was not even going to think too hard about the fact that at 13 she could drive.
"Oh man, that is way past the line into rude," Blair warned her as the tolerant face was replaced with something a little more forbidding.
"Fehter," she appealed to him.
"Don't look at me, Ab. Your dad and I are just goofing around, and if that embarrasses you so much I'm not sure I like the people you invited into our home."
"God!" she blurted in exasperation as she turned and stormed back to her harem of boys.
Jim reached over and slung an arm over Blair's shoulders, and Blair leaned into Jim. "Okay, this is just a phase, and I am so big enough to not let this bother me," Blair whispered firmly to himself.
"If you want, I can threaten them all with my cop face and send them running," Jim offered helpfully. He got an elbow in his stomach in return. Still smiling, Jim allowed Blair to pull him toward the loft stairs.
"Hey, your dads are going upstairs? Does that mean I can kiss you?" one of the boys asked. Jim froze, turning toward Abby with a look of horror on his face. His daughter caught his expression and knew instantly that she was busted.
"Oh, Dan, you know I was only teasing about that," she said as she turned her back and started talking to Kari Adams.
"Jim?" Blair asked, his eyes wide.
"Dan wants to kiss her. He wants to kiss our daughter," Jim said with horror. Blair looked at him for a second and then started pushing Jim toward the stairs again. This time Jim didn't go as easily. "He wants to kiss our daughter," he whispered desperately.
Blair shoved Jim toward the stairs, and now Jim could see Abby blushing. "Come on, Mr. Repressed, let's leave the girls to their party," Blair insisted. "The next five years are just going to be a joy with you around, aren't they?" he asked with mock sadness as they reached the top. Jim went to the bed in the far corner and sat.
"Five years of this... it's going to be hell. Dan wants to kiss our daughter."
"Yeah, I suspect a bunch of them do," Blair shrugged. I'd even guess that some of them have."
Jim was on his feet immediately, but Blair was there blocking him. "Man, I don't know whether to ask Naomi to keep an eye on your or Abby," he said with some amusement.
"I'm not cut out for this. I could handle diapers and broken bones and coaching, but I cannot handle this," Jim said helplessly as he looked toward the railing. The bed had been relocated to give them a little more privacy, but right now, Jim just wanted to lean over the rail and glare at every boy in his house. "Flirting... okay, I can take your whole explanation about imitating adult behaviors being normal, but she's talking about kissing one of those boys," Jim said, his voice going up a bit, and Blair held out his hands and shushed him.
"You'll handle it just fine, but man, they're growing up. You have to back off the Neanderthal impression. You are not making this any easier for anyone," he said softly.
Jim took a deep breath and reminded himself that he didn't want to make a scene at the girls' birthday. "The goal, Blair, is to not make this easy. In fact, I'm going for making it as difficult as I can." Jim crossed his arms and dared Blair to argue with that, but after a couple of seconds of silence, the man just started laughing. "Chief, this is not funny."
"Oh man, yes it is. You are like a walking cliché, here. Come on... short of sitcoms, do fathers really react this badly to the natural process of growing up?"
"Yes," Jim said with a frown. "You were a young man; you know what those little shits are thinking. She offered to kiss one!"
"They're thinking that they're about to get shot down by a beautiful woman, and most of them are. Come on, Jim. She's growing up."
"She's thirteen. She's not a woman."
"At thirteen, I would stay in communes by myself for months. I was basically on my own at 16. They aren't that much younger than that."
Jim could feel a cold horror twist in his guts at the very idea of leaving his girls anywhere alone. How could Naomi have done it? He knew for a fact that she had loved Blair, but how could she have just left him? "Chief, I'm not comfortable leaving for a weekend, and they are nowhere near grown," Jim said slowly because if Blair were trying to advocate for him to back off even more, they were about to have a major fight.
"I hear that," Blair nodded as he sat on their bed. Jim narrowed his eyes and considered Blair suspiciously. "Hey, I totally understand that kids need supervision, and I hate to tell you this, but Naomi did not leave me without supervision at this age. I was either with commune members or I was in the university dorms with a dorm advisor."
"A dorm advisor?" Jim could feel the cold knot tighten in his guts.
"Man, just turn the blessed protector shit off for two seconds, Mr. Cleaver. I was thinking that this summer we might send the girls to summer camp."
"Summer camp?" Jim said incredulously. "I tell you that a boy is down there trying to kiss our daughter, and you want to talk about a summer camp?"
"They're growing up," Blair said softly.
Jim tightened his lips and gathered a thousand different arguments for exactly why his girls were still children. Abby couldn't even wake up in the morning without five wake-up calls and a threat to make her walk to school. Liz had trouble when she met too many new people at once and would retreat behind her parents. It hadn't been that long since they would spend the evening in the park watching them on the swings, Naomi meditating on the grass while he and Blair took turns either swinging with the girls or pushing them. They weren't grown up at all. Only, Abby could drive, and now she was obviously kissing boys and the teachers wanted to jump Liz to ninth grade next year, skipping eighth altogether and putting her in high school. He was not ready to be the parent of a high school student. He'd thought he had a whole year before he had to deal with the horror of that. He sat on the bed next to Blair.
"Is there a cure for that?" Jim finally asked.
"Nope, although I've heard meditation and beer are good at distracting the parents to make the process less painful," Blair offered with a wry smile.
"I still hate that a boy asked to kiss her in my house," Jim said, just to make sure that Blair understood his position on that one.
"I hear you. Man, I totally hear you because I'm feeling way more of that overprotective drive than I ever thought I would, but you gotta let them grow up, Jim. If Naomi were here, she'd whisk them off to some conference on spiritual healing just to give them some space from us."
"She could try," Jim said a half second before he registered the tone of voice Blair had used... the wistfulness and regret. "Blair?"
Blair sighed and then shrugged. "The conference was in upstate New York. I was going to talk to you about it before their birthday, but then she died."
Jim could see the pain in his lover's eyes and he sat on the bed and pulled Blair close. They didn't say anything as the humor of moments ago vanished under the lingering wisps of pain that Naomi's death had left behind. Listening to the party and the boys with only a small part of his attention, he focused on Blair's heartbeat and the feel of Blair's body heat and the gentle wheeze as his throat tightened. "Maybe a summer camp would be a nice change. You and I could visit the monastery," Jim suggested, "give meditation a try instead of the beer."
"Now you're just trying to make me feel better," Blair said with a gentle huff.
"Yep," Jim agreed. There was very little he wouldn't do for his family. He was even going to ignore the fact that Dan had just gotten his kiss.
Sandburg, Ellison, and End Zones
"Honey, are you okay?" Jim asked as he settled down on the bench next to Liz. She looked over at him with that familiar expression, the one that asked him if he was kidding or just stupid. She'd learned that one from Blair.
"How could you keep a secret like that?" she asked in such a hurt voice that Jim found himself wishing that he'd sent Blair after her. Blair could handle rejection and blame a whole lot better than he could.
"It's complicated," Jim said, and a half second later he realized those were pretty much the words his father had used to describe the situation when Jim's mom had disappeared. Liz was a little more vocal than a young Jim Ellison had been, though, because she didn't accept it with the same stoic silence Jim had.
"That's lame," she announced.
"You're right, it is," Jim shrugged as he studied the people in the park. Two women were doing the touch-gaze-flirt ritual on the path, and Jim remembered when gays would have hesitated to do that in public, worrying about how others might react. "Fifteen years ago, it was a different world," Jim started slowly.
"Hey, here's a blurb... the world's changed and you should have told us," Liz interrupted. Jim raised his eyebrow, and she looked away quickly. Liz was slower to react, slower to jump in or show emotion, but she felt things more deeply than most people knew. And right now, Jim felt like a bastard because he could sense his daughter's pain.
"Honey, remember when we had the talk about the Sentinel stuff?" Jim got another look of adolescent incredulity in return, and he had to clear his throat before he threatened to do something drastic like lock Liz in her room until this pissy phase was over. According to Blair, that should happen some time after the girls hit thirty. Jim was oddly okay with locking them in their rooms until then. "Some secrets are private because we don't need other people judging us. We have to make the right decisions not only for ourselves but to keep ourselves safe and happy in the world."
"Please... please just do not start talking about boys because if this turns into the sex talk again, I'm really going to cry," Liz said as she chewed on her lower lip.
Jim put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her in close so she was tucked against his side. "You've always known I loved you. That hasn't changed," Jim said. "And if your grandfather had warned us that he named you in the will as his biological grandchildren, we would have found a much better way to explain this," he finished weakly.
"You never would have told us," Liz argued. Jim could feel the tiny tremors in her shoulders, and he tightened his hold, waiting as the grief crested. Liz hated crying in public, and he could hear every rough breath as she tried to hold it all back. Losing her grandfather and having her family rearranged was reason enough to cry, but she was still struggling against it. Blair sometimes worried about her—about the fact that she internalized things so much more than Abby—but Jim understood that need to keep your pain close. He'd thought his own urges came from his difficult childhood, but he hoped that he had given Liz a better life than he'd had, and she still did the same thing. Maybe the Ellisons were just genetically programmed to repress.
"We would have told you, but probably not for several years," Jim answered once the tremors had stopped and she seemed a little more in control. "I've always been so proud of you. You know that. I was looking forward to the day when you looked at me and called be 'father' instead of 'uncle'."
"Fehter," she said softly. "Considering dad is not exactly all with the Judiasm, we probably should have started putting things together."
"I think this qualifies as strange enough circumstances that you can forgive yourself for not figuring it out," Jim said dryly.
"The Sandburg Zone?" Liz asked with a slight twist of her lips.
Jim nodded. "You should have seen me when he first told me he wanted us to have kids. I completely freaked out. Oh, I would have denied it and said I was just thinking things through or something, but I freaked."
"It is a little freak-inspiring," Liz said with a wrinkle of her nose.
"Now you hold on," Jim said firmly, "you and I may be a little freaked, and most of what happens in the Sandburg Zone justifies a little freaking out, but there is nothing freaky or freak-inspiring about your father, do I make myself clear?"
"I didn't mean it that way," Liz said with her eyes wide, and Jim sighed and found himself caught between wanting to protect his daughter and wanting to protect his mate. And he knew that Liz hadn't meant to say anything hurtful, but if Blair had heard that, he would have been hurt even if he had tried to immediately hide it and pretend it didn't matter.
"That's one reason why your father and I didn't tell you," Jim said calmly. "It's just human nature to say things without thinking through how other people are going to take them."
"I wouldn't hurt Dad. Even if you'd told me before, I wouldn't have said anything to hurt him," she objected.
Jim sighed. He knew she wouldn't intend to hurt him. "Honey, you know I love your dad, right?"
"No conditions, no strings," she immediately agreed.
"Well I've said some things to him over the years that have really hurt him. I've..." Jim cleared his throat and looked out at the park and the people as he tried to figure out how much to say to a fifteen year old girl.
"I've said things to him that if anyone said to you, I'd break both their arms," Jim confessed.
"Oh man, you're off on your 'boys' speech again, aren't you?" Liz said with a laugh, but Jim looked at her seriously, and her smile faded. "Fehter?"
"I hurt him... badly. As a police officer, I would have suggested that he leave if I'd just overheard the conversation on a domestic call. And the fact is that he probably should have left me."
"When we were babies?" Liz asked quietly.
Jim shook his head. "No, before you were born. Your father came into my life when I was hurting, and I didn't always think things through before I said them, which is absolutely no defense," he said firmly. He didn't for a minute want his girls to grow up making excuses for some jerk. "I told him I didn't trust him," he admitted unhappily.
"And he let you?" Liz asked with more than a little surprise. That made Jim laugh. They'd both grown up a lot since those early years. Jim wouldn't say stupid shit without thinking it through, and Blair wouldn't take it if he tried.
"We were both different people," Jim said as he struggled to explain his point. "But Blair is one of those people who will forgive anything, and that saved us because he had a lot of reasons to forgive me."
Liz didn't say anything, but she pulled her lower lip in and pressed herself to his side. Jim just held her for a second, cherishing the fact that she loved him even when he screwed up. That part of her was pure Sandburg.
"Some people in this world are just forgiving, but that means we have to be more careful about not hurting them because they aren't always good at protecting themselves."
"You thought we would hurt dad?" Liz asked, and Jim could hear the confusion and hurt in her voice.
"I think you would never hurt him on purpose. I think that if we told you too young, you could have gotten confused and said things to him that would have hurt him badly," Jim said slowly. "One Mother's Day card would have pretty much sent him to therapy."
"Fehter, I think I can tell the difference between dad and a mom," she said with a snort.
"And if we'd told you at ten or eleven... would you have tried to make your dad feel better by buying that card?" Jim challenged her. She had the grace and honesty to be silent. "We don't mean to hurt people, but it's just human nature. Your grandfather was so afraid of the wrong people finding out that I was a Sentinel that he humiliated me into repressing my abilities. He only did that because he loved me."
"I wouldn't ever do anything to hurt you and dad like that," Liz said softly.
"I don't think you would, honey. I think your grandfather and I did some pretty unforgivable things because as adults we should have known better. As adults, we should have thought about how other people were going to hear what we were saying. But I think sometimes kids can hurt parents, too, just because they're too young to understand what's going on. It used to hurt my feelings pretty bad when Abby pretended to not know me at soccer games."
"She's a goober." Liz dismissed that with an eyeroll that made her look all Sandburg.
"You hurt my feelings when you told me you didn't want me to come to parent-teacher night."
"Me? I did not," Liz objected.
"You were seven years old. You said that a fehter wasn't a parent, and I shouldn't be there."
Liz grimaced. "I'm so sorry. I can't believe I would have said something like that."
"Honey, that's my point. Sometimes when you're young or you're just an idiot, you do things that hurt people when you don't mean to. I've spent enough time hurting your dad that I guess I'm a little protective of him, and I didn't want you or Abby to accidentally say something to him about his sexuality."
"Okay," Liz said with an even bigger grimace, "trust me, the thought of saying anything about you two and sex is a big 'no'. I mean, ick."
"That's my girl," Jim congratulated her. That's what he wanted to hear out of his daughters.
"Dad doesn't know that's why you wanted to keep the secret, does he?"
For a long minute Jim just sat on the bench and considered all the ways he could obfuscate on that answer. In the end, he told her the truth. "No, he doesn't. He'd kill me if he had any idea that I just wanted to protect him."
"Dad can be all with the obtuseness sometimes," she sighed, and Jim bopped her on the back of the head.
"Be respectful. That's your father you're calling obtuse, so any stupidity in his genes is half yours."
"And the other half is from you," she pointed out, and Jim tried to figure out if his daughter was calling him stupid or just implying it. "I just... this is weird."
"You're handling it better than I did when Blair first talked to me," Jim had to admit. "Honey, it hasn't been easy for Blair being intersex, and we both agreed that you and your sister should not have to deal with adult prejudices because of something you can't control."
"So you just gave up your right to be a father?" Liz asked him, and Jim was shocked into absolute silence. His blood rushed through his veins so fast that, for a second, he could hear the roar of it in his ears.
"I never gave up anything," Jim said firmly. No way would he ever allow his girls to even think that. "I was there for the birthday parties and the soccer practices and every disaster you and your sister ever cooked up in that kitchen, and with enhanced senses, your cooking is..." Jim waved a vague hand. He wouldn't ever say it to Abby because she was a little more invested in their experiments, but the girls had definitely inherited their other father's taste for odd food.
"Not always," Jim said as he got up and held out his hand for his daughter.
"Just most of the time."
"Your dad and I love you anyway," Jim said without arguing the point as he started walking toward home, Liz's hand in his.
"I really love you, too," Liz said as she pulled her hand away only to slip it around his waist. "And yeah, I can see where having two dads in the biological and not just the gay way could confuse a little kid. But you know, I am old enough to handle it now."
"I know," Jim agreed.
"And I'll be careful about not saying anything dumb to hurt dad."
"I know that, too."
"And I really can't make any promises for dumb and Abby because her mouth always runs way ahead of her brain."
"Elizabeth Naomi Sandburg!" Jim snapped.
"I'll try to intercept any Mother's Day cards."
"Liz," Jim warned in an even darker tone as he stopped in the middle of the street to give her the stink-eye. It was a useful expression that he had perfected over the years. Unfortunately, it worked far better on suspects than on his daughters. She rolled her eyes and started for the loft, leaving Jim to follow.
"Growing up, she always wanted Karen to stick around and play mom a lot more than I did. So, if there's stupid to be had, it'll come from her."
"She wanted a mother," Jim said sadly, wishing that they could have given their daughters that. But Karen wasn't the maternal type, and her visits were becoming more and more rare. "Sometimes I wish Naomi had lived longer or stayed around more because maybe you needed that. Maybe you needed more than Blair and I could give you..." Jim stopped when Liz suddenly embraced him, her arms around his waist and hugging tightly.
"You two did a great job, and I don't know why I'm being all ungrateful."
"Because your grandfather died and you're hurting," Jim said as he hugged his daughter back.
"Thanks for understanding, Dad," Liz tried the word out. Jim could feel his eyes get hot. For the first time, Jim got to call the girls his daughters. William Ellison might be a manipulative old bastard putting that in his will, but Jim couldn't regret the fact that it had given them a reason to finally talk to the girls. "Oh honey, we both love you; that's what really counts."
She snorted into his chest, and at first Jim thought she'd started sobbing. It didn't take long to figure out it was a laugh. She pulled back and started for the loft again. "Uncle Stephen has to be so confused. I mean, grandfather said we were his biological grandchildren, but he didn't explain a whole lot."
Jim flung his arm over his daughter's shoulders. "Stephen has been around long enough to know what the Sandburg Zone looks like and back away from the strangeness slowly."
"But it's not just the Sandburg Zone. I mean, I'm half Ellison, too, so does that mean I can leave the Sandburg Zone and go to the Ellison Zone?"
"Sure, hon," Jim agreed with a smile as her hand slipped back around his waist. "Just as long as you realize that the Ellison Zone is directly contiguous to the Sandburg Zone. Any strangeness that happens in the Sandburg side will immediately and spectacularly splash directly onto any and all adjacent Ellisons, so don't expect to get very far if you try and leave."
"I wouldn't dream of going far, Dad."